Eurozone Recovery, Irish Opportunity: New EU funding and national initiatives drive healthcare digitalisation


  • NextGenerationEU represents an opportunity for Irish companies to break into new markets or scale their presence in existing markets
  • EU member states are seeking to digitalise their healthcare systems as rapidly as possible, with hundreds of projects set to kick off over the next couple of years
  • The Enterprise Ireland Eurozone team can help you find the right healthcare digitalisation projects to target
  • Click or scroll down for more information about the healthcare digitalisation market in:


Estimated article reading time: 12 minutes

New EU funding

Across Europe, EU member states are seeking to digitalise their healthcare systems as rapidly as possible over the next three years. This is not only spurred by the pandemic, but also by an extraordinary increase in funding under the €750 billion NextGenerationEU plan, which seeks to build a more resilient Europe.

Two key goals of this plan are to make Europe digital and to make it healthy, with the development of digital healthcare an engine driving both of those. France, for example, is dedicating €2 billion to digital health alone in its national recovery and resilience plan.

“This unprecedented public funding across the EU represents an extraordinary opportunity for Irish businesses,” says Anne Lanigan, regional director, Eurozone at Enterprise Ireland. “Digitalising healthcare is now a core focus across the region, with hundreds of projects set to kick off over the next couple of years.”

Enabling 21st century healthcare

Within the digital goal, the EU wants to see artificial intelligence (AI) being used to improve healthcare and for public services to become digital where possible, taking advantage of 5G and EU-wide ultra-fast broadband.

The EU is also keen for member states to modernise their health systems with better access to new technology and medical supplies, and to invest more in research and innovation to develop vaccines and treatments.

Expanding digital health exports

With significant tranches of funding dedicated to both of these goals in individual member state recovery and resilience plans, this clearly presents a huge opportunity for Irish companies who produce or develop digital health products and services. That’s true whether they want to start exporting or diversify their export markets.

“The opportunities can differ from market to market and there are challenges to overcome,” says Lanigan, “but the message is clear from our offices around the region – strong Irish healthcare players with disruptive, niche or market-leading products, services or components can thrive while taking advantage of NextGenerationEU-funded opportunities.”

Given the need to pursue a market diversification strategy post-Brexit, she adds that it makes sense for companies that want to export or to expand their export activities to look to EU markets and try to take advantage of this huge increase in funded projects.

Priority areas of funding


Everywhere in Europe, the pandemic has seen a huge surge in telemedicine, remote care and  remote monitoring, as both citizens seek to protect themselves and healthcare providers look to maximise resources. This sector is expanding rapidly, meaning that opportunities abound for businesses keen to export.

Optimising data and processes

Across the region, governments are also seeking to optimise processes in healthcare, making the most of software and apps, and aiming for a high level of interoperability and better co-ordination between all the different strands of healthcare systems.

They want to make better use of data, with most countries seeking to introduce or improve digital health profiles, which offer a single source of truth to each citizen and all their healthcare providers.

Other priorities

In most markets, both preventative and personalised medicine, including the use of AI in medicine, are also beginning to boom. As ever, any innovation in medical devices and device components is also going to be of interest to European customers, especially in Germany and Italy.

Innovation in medical imaging is also highly sought after, particularly in France, where it is a core focus. Medical areas in particular focus include: cardiac health; diabetes; oncology; and respiratory diseases.

In some less mature markets, such as Italy, there are also opportunities for companies that can provide innovative solutions around connectivity for healthcare locations and digital skills across the health and medical workforce.

Understanding the challenges

National healthcare systems are never straightforward, and the level and nature of the complexity involved varies from market to market. Most have both public and private healthcare systems running in parallel, although the public/private split varies significantly.

In some countries, such as Germany and Spain, private hospital chains and large insurance companies that offer branded clinics and digital products are significant actors.

While the increase in EU funding is primarily focused on public healthcare, it is worth bearing in mind that a private healthcare company can often make faster decisions and be less hamstrung by legacy and regulatory processes.

Where healthcare is concerned, localisation is important in every market, even in those with a high degree of fluency in English.

The value of local partnership

Those seeking to sell into the public healthcare system in any EU market typically need to work with a local systems integrator, who is used to navigating the complexity of the national system and national tender processes.

“Whether your company is focusing on securing public or private customers, you will need a local partner who understands the healthcare system and you may need a local office or representative,” says Lanigan.

“Part of Enterprise Ireland’s remit is to make introductions locally and to enable Irish companies set up the partnerships they need to succeed. Talk to us and we can help you.”

Digital healthcare: The Irish Advantage

While any Irish company operating in the digital healthcare space needs to offer a standout product or service to gain traction in export markets, the good news is that Irish firms are typically keeping pace with local competitors and can garner market share fast when their offering has the edge over those developed in-market.

Market snapshots


Digitalisation of the healthcare system is a huge priority in Belgium, but language and regulatory complexity pose a challenge to exporters.

  • €5.9 billion national recovery and resilience plan
    • 27% allocated to digital initiatives

€40m digital healthcare funding allocated across:

  • Teleconsulting
  • E-prescribing platforms
  • Making existing eHealth applications more user-friendly

Medical priority areas:

  • Cardiac health
  • Diabetes
  • Oncology
  • Respiratory diseases
  • This is a fragmented market, subject to federal and regional oversight, and companies need to be ready to operate in three languages
  • Digital health products and services must be approved for reimbursement or are unlikely to be prescribed to patients
  • Belgium’s national recovery and resilience plan sets a key goal of making the national healthcare system more resilient, through modernisation and digitalisation
  • Its eHealth Roadmap sets out how that will happen across government, industry, service providers and patients
  • A planned Health Data Authority will make healthcare data available for research and product development
  • Broadly speaking, the Belgian population has good digital skills but it lags behind the neighbouring Netherlands, and is also further behind in digital transformation

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Determined to lead the region in digital healthcare, France has introduced numerous eHealth initiatives, backed by substantial funding.

  • EU financing €40 billion of the overall €100 billion France Relance recovery plan
    • €7 billion going to health, with €2 billion in public and private funding specifically allocated to digital health initiatives
  • Digital prevention
  • Medical devices based on artificial intelligence
  • Innovative remote monitoring solutions
  • Imaging solutions
  • As part of France’s intense drive to lead in digital health, it has introduced new agencies for digital transformation of health, particularly the Agence du numérique en santé (ANS), along with a national health ID and a national eHealth platform for patients & healthcare professionals
  • It is also seeking to fast-track innovation in health products and medical devices, and has recently launched a national portal for eHealth innovation
  • A new agency, the Agence de l’innovation en santé (AIS) or Agency for Healthcare Innovation aims to simplify and unify the ecosystem, to make it easier for scientists, healthcare professionals, industry and investors to collaborate
  • Reimbursement is a huge issue in France – if your digital health product or service is not on the reimbursement list, it’s extremely difficult to gain traction

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With an approvals fast track in place, Germany is committed to digital health but the competitive local scene is hard to crack.

  • €25.6 billion in grants for recovery and resilience projects
    • €3 billion to digitalise hospitals
    • €814 million to modernise public healthcare offices, with vaccine development also a key focus
  • Sub-supply in medical devices (supplying device components), as Germany seeks to become a medical device hub
  • Optimising administration and operational efficiency to free up the time of medical staff to focus on clinical issues
  • People in Germany are generally insured by one of more than 100 public health insurers, with many also choosing to opt for private insurance
  • Large hospital chains such as Helios are key players
  • As elsewhere, reimbursement is crucial and products and services must be included on the Hilfsmittelliste – bear in mind the approvals process can be complicated
  • While the same GDPR principles apply in Germany as anywhere else in Europe, people there are particularly concerned about data privacy and need reassurance around any potential sharing of their data
  • Germany is advanced in digital terms
  • Wearables are extremely popular for health monitoring and there is a reimbursement fast track for what are known as DiGA (Digitale Gesundheitsanwendungen or digital health applications). International companies are encouraged to seek DiGA approvals
  • That said, given Germany’s size and how advanced the local scene is, those wishing to enter the market need to have an exceptional niche product and be extremely clear on its USP

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While it has lagged on the digital front, Italy is committed to modernising its healthcare system and is open to external innovation.

€191.6 billion in grants and loans for recovery and resilience

  • €15.6 billion to modernise and digitalise the Servizio Sanitario Nazionale (SSN), the public health system
    • €7 billion to develop proximity networks, infrastructures and telemedicine for local care
    • €8.63 billion for research, innovation and digitalisation

Digital connectivity is also a priority, with 12,279 healthcare facilities slated to be provided with 1GBPS connectivity by 2026

  • Italy continues to have lower digital literacy and lower investment in digital innovation than elsewhere
  • Digital skills among healthcare professionals are markedly low and only 38% of population knows about electronic health records
  • The recovery and resilience plan seeks to address this, with a core focus on modernising the healthcare system and building the digital skills of its workforce
  • With an aging population, Italy sees a significant need for digital health solutions that can support elder care
  • Large insurance companies such as Generali and Reale Mutua are already developing senior living complexes designed to incorporate digital healthcare
  • Italy is a fragmented market with considerable decentralised administration in healthcare and substantial regional differences in terms of digital maturity and healthcare ecosystems
  • Enterprise Ireland typically recommends that Irish companies enter the market by focusing on a single area in the north of the country, such as Milan
  • Across the board, public sector decision-making tends to be slower than in the private sector

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The Netherlands has not yet submitted a national recovery and resilience plan – the only EU member state not to do so.

With one of the most advanced healthcare systems in the world, the Netherlands has a strong focus on digital health innovation.

  • Cardiac health
  • Diabetes
  • Oncology
  • Respiratory diseases
  • Both individual and public sector spending on healthcare is much higher than the EU average and the Dutch spend the most of all EU countries on long-term care
  • All residents are mandated to buy insurance from private insurers as part of a government scheme
  • The Netherlands is one of the most advanced countries in the world in terms of both digital skills, and public and private digital transformation
  • It has many advanced solutions already in place, which can be a barrier to entry for international companies
  • Digital healthcare is a huge focus, with an eHealth at home incentive scheme in place and more flexible rules introduced around reimbursement for digital health apps and services
  • The Dutch government has built an extensive Care for Innovation online portal for eHealth innovators
  • Note there is already a strong collaborative ecosystem in the Netherlands between research institutes, healthcare institutes/professionals, organisations and public bodies
  • The government is also organising a countrywide Smart Health Relay event to educate healthcare providers on innovation in healthcare solutions from Jan 31 to Feb 25 2022

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While Spain is a fragmented market due to strong regional government, opportunity abounds as digital healthcare is less advanced than elsewhere.

  • €69.5 billion national recovery and resilience plan
    • 17% going to science, innovation and modernising and strengthening the national healthcare system – together one of 10 priority policies for NextGenEU funding in Spain
  • Advanced therapies for diabetes, neurodegenerative diseases, ALS and other conditions
  • Personalised precision medicine, incorporating genomic data
  • National Digital Health System with integrated database
  • Promoting primary healthcare through digital transformation
  • Within the overall Spanish plan is PERTE (Proyectos Estratégicos para la Recuperación y Transformación Económica or strategic projects for economic recovery and transformation) to which €1.469 billion in public/private funds is being devoted until the end of 2023)
  • While Spain is the second largest recipient of funds in the EU, not many projects have been properly specced out and made available for tender yet
  • With 17 autonomous communities and five official languages, Spain is not a market where a one-size-fits-all approach works
  • In fact, 55% of the national recovery and resilience funding will be managed by the Spanish state, with 45% being administered by regional authorities
  • Irish companies should begin by seeking a foothold in one area, such as Madrid, before trying to expand across the country. Note many regions have their own systems integrators
  • While targeting an often-fragmented public healthcare system can be challenging, recent reforms to speed up public sector contracting go some way to mitigating that
  • Almost everyone in Spain is covered by the national health system, while many also have private health insurance
  • Insurance companies such as Sanitas are particularly active in areas such as telemedicine
  • In 2019, health spending per capita in Spain was 15% lower than the EU average, while out-of-pocket payments for prescriptions and medical devices were much higher than average

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