Sword Health, a startup operating out of Portugal that has developed a digital physiotherapy solution to enable patients to be treated remotely in their own homes, has raised $4.6 million in seed funding. Backing the round is Green Innovations, Vesalius Biocapital III, and other unnamed investors in the U.S. and Europe.
The company says it will use the new capital, which adds to an earlier ~$1.2 million grant from the European Commission, to accelerate the development of new digital therapies and drive global growth.
Using what it describes as a combination of “high-precision motion tracking sensors” and the latest advances in AI, the Sword Health solution aims to make the delivery of physiotherapy infinitely more scalable, in recognition that there is a worldwide shortage of physiotherapists. Its flagship product “Sword Phoenix” provides patients with interactive physical rehabilitation exercises from the comfort of their own home, supervised by remote physiotherapists.
“Twenty years ago my brother had a car accident. What I realised then (and this is still true now) is that there is a huge gap between the demand for physical therapy and our ability, as a developed society, to deliver that therapy,” Sword Health co-founder and CEO Virgílio Bento tells me.
“The problem is that the physical rehabilitation industry has not changed in the last 50 years. We’re still very much dependent on the one-to-one patient-therapist interaction, which is the gold standard, but it is not a scalable model and is actually very costly for both patients and healthcare providers”.
To remedy this, Bento and the Sword team began work on what he calls a “digital physical therapist” concept. The idea is that by using motion sensors attached to the appropriate places of a patient’s body, combined with an AI-driven user interface that can take that motion data and give instant feedback, some of what a physiotherapist does can be augmented by machines.
“With Sword Phoenix, clinical teams extend their therapeutic footprint to each patient’s home, scale their reach and are able to devote more time to delivering the human touch,” he says.
To date, Bento says Sword is working with insurance companies, national health services, health maintenance organisations and providers in the U.S., Canada, Australia, Norway, and the startup’s home country, Portugal.
“These customers are able to provide higher quality physical therapy services directly in the patient’s home and decrease operational costs at the same time – an accomplishment that is only possible in healthcare through enlightened use of data analysis and technology,” he adds.
In terms of competitors, Bento argues that the majority of health tech companies are focused on developing technologies that improve the one-to-one patient therapist interaction (e.g., Tyromotion, Hocoma). “This incremental improvement is not the solution because it does not result in a paradigm shift,” he says.
With that said, Bento does conceded that there are other startups trying to create a digital therapist. One I’ve covered in detail is Atomico-backed Hinge Health, which has developed a digital solution for musculoskeletal (MSK) disorders.