Digital Health: growth and startups

The pandemic has accelerated the digitalization of healthcare. Increasing use and interest in ‘digital health’ solutions in Italy and around the world, the race is on among the startups that will be able to better address the needs of the Next Normal

Published on 07 Sep 2020

Photo by National Cancer Institute on Unsplash

Digital health is a bridge between digital technologies and personal health, well-being and health care. Digital health is telemedicine, but it is also electronic health records, health apps, electronic health prescription, digital therapeutics, IoT and wearable devices, robotics, etc. 

It is a rather large sector, which tries to address basically a mission: a better health care, more accessible, efficient, smarter for everyone. 

Digital health and territorial health 

Digital health trumps prevention, customization, proximity health, territorial health. 

The latter was the poor one in Italy during the Covid emergency and characterised us in terms of the number of deaths compared to countries such as Germany, where home healthcare support is much more widespread, according to the Osservatorio delle Malattie Rare (Rare Diseases Monitoring Centre), which points out: “Among professionals, but also in the collective awareness, it is now quite clear that the problem of health management of the COVID-19 emergency was not so much, or first of all, in the number of hospital accommodation, but in the ability to ‘get before’ hospitalisation, and if anything, avoid it. A faculty that for years has been invoked with the formula of “territorial health”, which is nothing more than the possibility of timely dialogue and direct assistance. Simple, at home, even within reach of a smartphone or PC. Just look at European countries like Germany, where the ‘mystery of the few dead’, in the face of a number of contagions close to ours, is not really present, since it is dealt with by a customized system of health support, first of all at home”. 

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For years digital health has been developing all over the world and many experts tell us it is the future of medicine and health care. We talked about it with Roberto Ascione, founder of Healthware, and with the pandemic, every possible cultural, behavioral, organizational concern has given way to the need to resort to it, clearly showing how much technological tools can be the difference in health management. Doctors first understood it. 

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According to a report by CompuGroup Medical (CGM) on the digital response in Italy to the Covid-19 emergency, more than 4 thousand doctors, pharmacists, dentists, psychologists and other professionals used the Clickdoc remote advisory platform, provided free of charge during the emergency, to feed the doctor-patient relationship and safeguard the continuity of care, with particular reference to chronicity. Almost 5,300 pharmacies have already joined, a system that, also provided free of charge, allows the patient to send the electronic prescription (NRE) directly to the pharmacy, so as to reduce travel and queues and receive medicines at home. 

These are only a part of the ‘competitor’ setting among the telemedicine applications which have experienced extraordinary growth in recent months or have been generated by the emergency: the Instant Report COVID-19 no. 8 of ALTEMS (Università Cattolica) published last May, surveyed almost 140 telemedicine solutions, launched by individual healthcare companies since the beginning of March, more than two thirds of which are dedicated to the care of “non-covid” patients. There are also several ‘private’ platforms: (which in March in 10 days registered more than a thousand doctors to the video consults platform),, DaVinci Salute, Telemedicine of the Santagostino Medical Center, Topdoctors, LiviConnect, Ultraspecialists, among others. 

As shown in the table above, the digital health universe includes more than telemedicine: it is also electronic health booklet, health app, electronic health prescription, digital therapeutics, IoT and wearable devices, robotics, and so on. 

The digital health environment 

At the player level, the environment includes large companies, start-ups, institutions, investors, the medical community, healthcare professionals and pharmacists, public and private hospitals, healthcare providers, RSAs, patients and caregivers, education, universities, research and insurance. The success of digital health depends on all these elements and is a cultural process that focuses on the person and aims at improving individual health and the health care system. 

On the venture capital and startup front, the trendsetters of what we call the future, experts agree that despite a general slowdown in investment since the beginning of the year, due to coronavirus, the sector is likely to be livelier in the coming months in the very sectors directly involved in the fight against the pandemic (i.e. medical devices and biotechnology) or in those likely to influence the recovery of the world economy in the post-Covid-19 era, primarily digital health. 

Startups in the foreground 

Rock Health 

In the United States, a new report by Rock Health, showed a surge in investment in digital health since the beginning of the pandemic, with capital raised to $5.4 billion (€4.79 billion) in the first six months of 2020 and cuts in operations are growing. The news of the $200 million investment in the RO startup, a digital health platform that takes care of the patient from diagnosis to delivery of treatment and care, is very recent. Its CEO Zachariah Reitano expressed a very important concept at Crunchbase. 

 “We think digital health care is here to stay” Reitano said. “Although not all healthcare issues are suitable for distance care, we think we are in the midst of a massive paradigm shift towards a digital mindset, where patients will first think about whether they can receive safe, high quality care online, and then look for care in person if it can better serve their specific circumstances.”. 


A recent Italian example is 1000Farmacie, which closed a 1.5 million euro investment round, underwritten by industrial groups, investors, such as Fin Posillipo Spa and Healthware Ventures. 

The company was founded in 2019 with the aim of bringing together the best Italian pharmacies, with the relevant warehouses, to provide users with the possibility to choose from a wide range of products at the best price and receive them directly at home through the delivery service, but, thanks to Covid, it has already expanded its mission. 

 “The current healthcare experience is extremely patchy, resulting in inconvenience for the end customer. 1000Farmacie aims to unify the digital healthcare experience: from the acquisition of reliable information online to the delivery of medicines at home in a few hours, via teleconsultation and diagnostic tests. Our platform synergistically brings together around 1000 authorized pharmacies, with the aim of offering consumers the widest available range of products and the possibility to safely purchase online directly from trusted pharmacies”, said CEO and co-founder Nicolò Petrone. 

DaVinci Healthcare 

Another example, again Italian, is DaVinci Healthcare, which has been experiencing a great growth, “70% per month in the last 12 months and hopefully we will triple it again in the coming months. By 2020 a 300% growth is expected”, said in this interview Stefano Casagrande CEO of the company – reporting on the closure of their equity crowdfunding campaign overfunded before the deadline. 

DaVinci is an innovative startup offering telemedicine, in particular teleconsultations and telemonitoring, leveraging the most advanced technologies, offering remote medical and psychological services on video or chat. The service is offered via app or webapp and guarantees a maximum waiting time of 20 minutes. 

Telemedicine platforms are performing a great support role for territorial healthcare, DaVinci Healthcare, for example, is collaborating with the largest cooperative of general practitioners that covers the whole Lombardy territory and sees 750 family physicians involved. 

Even the Osservatorio Innovazione Digitale in Sanità of the School of Management of Politecnico di Milano has recorded an evolution in the behaviour of both healthcare professionals and patients in recent months. According to the data, “in addition to 13% of general practitioners and 23% of specialist doctors who were previously using these tools and will continue to do so in the future, 56% and 37% of doctors respectively, who had never used these tools, turned over and are planning to do so in the future”. 


Another Italian startup to be included in the digital health sector, although different from telemedicine, is Metawellness, which has designed a bracelet synthetically defined anti-Covid: its name is Labby Light and has two functions, one for social distancing, the other for tracking contagions. Recently the company has launched a crowdfunding campaign to create the first bracelet in the world able to detect heartbeat, body temperature and blood oxygenation, which will apply both in sports and in the field of telemedicine being certified as a medical device. 

Digital Health is the Next Normal 

The proof that the boom in digital health is not going to fade away comes from another Italian startup of specialist nursing teleassistance provided by ParkinsonCare. The service, created by Careapt – startup of Zambon group – made free of charge from the very first phases of the emergency thanks to the partnership with Confederazione Parkinson Italia Onlus, registered in the last three months (after lockdown) 4,500 calls, 3,389 remote assistance interventions, 235 video consultations with neurologists and other professionals of the multidisciplinary team, and reduced to 7 accesses to the GP (general practitioners) and only 2 accesses to the Emergency Room. 

International scientific publications, such as the Journal of Parkinsonisms and Related Disorders or The Lancet, have also talked about this Italian example to underline the importance of telemedicine for the care of patients suffering from particular pathologies, especially neurodegenerative ones, which can be permanently monitored by a network of highly specialized figures within their home environment, able to give a more realistic perspective of their conditions. 

This is the so-called home-hub-and-spoke model. 

Digital Health is one of the reference topics of the seventh edition of the international contest promoted by BNP Paribas Cardif in partnership with InsuranceUp, this year focused on the Next Normal, the future after the pandemic. Innovative ideas, solutions and products are sought in all areas of people’s daily lives. 

Applications available until September 30th, apply here. 

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