Healthcare’s Digital Revolution: Key Insights into Digital Therapeutics

Health-centric apps are popping up all over app stores. What’s the difference between digital therapeutics and other wellness technologies? And how are digital therapeutic products shaping healthcare’s technological revolution?

Mobile app stores are full of health-related apps. Take Android as an example; the top ten health and fitness apps were downloaded a collective 19.5 million times. That’s impressive, considering that there are thousands of such apps available. 

However, not all health apps are digital therapeutics (abbreviated as DTx). The Digital Therapeutics Alliance defines DTx as ‘evidence-based therapeutic interventions driven by high-quality software programs to prevent, manage, or treat a broad spectrum of physical, mental, and behavioral conditions. [They] are distinct from pure-play adherence, diagnostic, and telehealth products.’ Examples of digital therapeutics include apps that prevent and treat back pain, help asthma patients track and monitor symptoms, and recommend appropriate insulin doses to diabetics. 

Health and wellness apps have a broader definition. According to Innovatemedtec, “Health and wellness apps are mobile application programs that offer health-related services on smartphones, tablet PCs, and other communication devices… [Examples include] fitness activity tracking, weight loss coaching, medical advice and patient community, and menstrual period tracking.” 

Both DTx and wellness apps are generating a lot of interest as examples of healthcare’s digital frontier. To understand where this is headed, let’s examine some key insights into the digital therapeutics landscape.

Digital Therapeutics Is A Medical Intervention

All health-related apps have an element of convenience; without it, no one would use them. But digital therapeutics are not simply about convenience; they must be evidence-based and designed to treat or prevent a specific condition. Thus, they are held to a higher standard than wellness apps.

In an interview with The Sidebar, Jessica Shull, European Lead for the Digital Therapeutics Alliance, stated: “DTx are based on evidence, often on several clinical trials, having undergone years of development, refining, testing, Randomized Controlled Trials (RCTs), and always with healthcare professionals and end users (patients) involved in the design. They have a direct effect on the user’s disease or condition, so there must be careful studies done to prove their safety, accuracy, and efficacy.” 

In short, DTx are not just hyper-focused health/wellness/lifestyle apps; they are a real pathway for delivering measurable outcomes. This is reflected by their increasing acceptance by regulatory bodies and insurance companies, which make a distinction between fitness-type apps and evidence-based digital therapeutic apps. 

DTx Can Be Applied to Multiple Focus Areas

In a comprehensive look at DTx’s impact on digital healthcare, Star Health and Wellness experts discussed the many ways this technology can supplement traditional healthcare. Here are just two focus areas where digital therapeutics have already proven their value:

  • Pain Management. Talking about the current digital therapeutics landscape, Shrawan Patel, MD and managing director of Strategy Health, noted one valuable advantage to DTx: treatment with fewer side effects. Thus, we see apps like Kaia Health teaching pain management techniques to people with musculoskeletal disorders. We also see digital therapeutics being used to supplement treatments for opioid use disorder with app-assisted cognitive behavioral therapy.  
  • Cognitive and Mental Health.  Constant Therapy, an award-winning cognitive training app, helps people deal with the effects of traumatic brain injuries, strokes, dementia, or learning disorders. By giving patients the ability to practice customized exercises whenever and wherever suitable, this app has enabled its users to log an extra four hours of practice each week – and, critically, to achieve measurable improvement in standardized tests. 

The Takeaway: Healthcare Needs Digital Therapeutics

Space prohibits exploring the other uses of digital therapeutics, but they are many. Perhaps the most essential insight into DTx is this: they make it possible to deliver quality, affordable healthcare to a wide variety of people – some of whom would be unable to get treatment otherwise. 

The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of The World Financial Review.