Consumer/Patient Experience Special Feature: Digital therapeutics – Improving the patient experience at scale
By Paul Balagot is the chief experience officer of precisioneffect
It’s no surprise that the patient experience with the healthcare system often leads to frustration and despair. With chronic disease affecting around 50 percent of the U.S. population, it puts into perspective the sheer volume of patient experiences that are being generated each day and the magnitude of the problems that need solving. The high cost of therapies, the long wait to see a physician, the administrative burden of getting a prior authorization…the list goes on. But the day is coming, and in some cases it’s already here, where a patient could have a robust health system right in their pocket. With telemedicine, a patient can see a doctor virtually without the long wait associated with going into a doctor’s office. And even beyond the doctor visit, patients have the potential to have a pharmacy as well. I’m referring to the field of digital therapeutics. Digital therapeutics are software-like video games, applications, and sensors in pills that are meant to both augment and, in some cases, even replace traditional therapies.
What makes the field of digital therapeutics so exciting is its potential to disrupt and overcome many of the ingrained challenges that exist with traditional pharmaceutical development and truly improve the patient experience at scale. Here are just a handful of challenges that digital therapeutics are uniquely positioned to overcome.
Accessibility – The ubiquity of smartphones provides a highly accessible and convenient gateway for patients to access and receive care. As digital therapeutics continue to gain clinical validation and generate meaningful outcomes, the accessibility and adoption of these digital therapies will continue to grow. This is particularly exciting in that it has the potential to provide healthcare solutions to underserved, uninsured populations as the access to therapy could just be a click or download away. According to a report by Grand View Research, it is estimated that the global digital therapeutics market is expected to reach $9.3 billion by 2025.
Therapy feedback – With traditional therapeutic management, there isn’t always the instantaneous feedback or real-world outcomes that show a patient that their therapy is working. With many chronic conditions, it is only through the periodic doctor visit where a patient can see if there has been meaningful progress made in the treatment of their disease. Digital therapeutics have used a combination of health coaches, peer support, and data science to provide a more robust feedback loop. And as wearable sensors advance from consumer grade to clinical grade and the tracking of patient health data becomes more prevalent, the ability to provide patients in-the-moment clinical feedback and reinforcement can encourage patients to stay more compliant and adherent to their treatment regimen. Omada Health, one of the pioneers of digital therapeutics, has a 16-week Diabetes Prevention Program to help individuals lose weight to help reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes and leverages many of these feedback mechanisms.
Cost – According to the Tufts Center for the Study of Drug Development (CSDD), the cost to develop a new pharmaceutical drug extends over 2.5 billion dollars. The huge development costs and failure rates of traditional therapeutics are significant contributors to the high price points of many drugs. As continued pressure is placed on the healthcare system to cut costs, and provide more value-based care, digital therapeutics could very well provide a more cost-effective option to delivering and deploying care at scale.
Side-effect reduction – With any drug comes pharmacological effects that both provide a therapeutic benefit as well as side effects which can often be unfavorable (eg, nausea, vomiting, headaches, diarrhea). Many of the up-and-coming digital therapeutics and their platforms are focused on improving outcomes through cognitive-behavioral therapy. Because of their focus on behavior change and modification, the side effects are often negligible or even nonexistent. The idea of being able to obtain a therapeutic benefit without side effects creates enormous potential in improving the treatment experience for patients.
So, as we look at many of the issues that lead to a poor patient experience, it’s encouraging to see the positive impact that digital therapeutics can provide in improving accessibility to care, reducing cost, providing better treatment feedback, and reducing side effects.
Digital therapeutics are being investigated and developed in many chronic conditions including but not limited to diabetes, respiratory disorders, and mental health. In some instances, digital therapeutic programs have also received reimbursement support and assistance.
And though a lot of progress has been made, the emerging field of digital therapeutics is still in the very early stages with many other hurdles to overcome. However, with each study that is conducted, with each peer-reviewed article that gets published, and for every patient, caregiver, doctor, and nurse that has a positive experience with a digital therapeutic, the world grows that much closer to improving the patient experience.