The MedTech industry is experiencing an unprecedented wave of innovations. Data has been one of the most important players in this revolution, and the same could be said of IoT technologies. However, there has been another important trend with a much lower profile. It has been growing slowly, practically unnoticed by the news. It is known as Digital Therapeutics.
Conventional therapy is being re-evaluated thanks to newly available technologies and powerful apps. At Koombea we have been following this growing trend for a while now. This post analyzes what Digital Therapeutics is, how it is impacting the MedTech industry, and how apps play a major role in the big picture.
What Is Digital Therapeutics
Digital Therapeutics (DTx) are evidence-backed therapeutic interventions in which software is used to prevent, manage or treat a particular illness, whether it is a medical disorder or a disease. One of its main goals is to change patient behavior for the better. In other words, there is an important behavioral component to DTx. Its interventions are done through devices like mobile phones, tablets, and wearables. It is important to consider that it is used not only for physical diseases. Mental problems are also susceptible to this form of treatment.
Don’t be confused if this sounds a lot like telemedicine or other digitally-driven health innovations. One of the factors that distinguish DTx from other innovations is its software-driven and evidence-based approach. Its apps can be used alone or paired up with other forms of therapy to optimize a patient’s results. Many medical solutions claim to be DTx solutions but aren’t. To be classified as such, a therapy should ideally have clearance or approval from regulators as a result of evidence-backed positive clinical impact.
According to Megan Coder, executive director of the Digital Therapeutics Alliance (DTA), this new form of treatment has been around for about ten years. You might be wondering why you’ve never heard of it, and the thing is that, throughout its short spanned life, there have only been relatively few treatments. Medical regulatory approval requires exhaustive evidence in order for a product to claim that it has positive impacts. This is not as bad as it sounds, because it sets a minimum standard. As the sector grows, it is expected that better and faster R&D will allow more DTx solutions to be developed.
The most popular DTx application to date is the digital delivery of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). It is used to treat depression and anxiety disorders. This specific segment is expected to grow in the near future, although various apps exist already.
The Importance of Digital Therapeutics for MedTech
At first, it might seem like DTx is just a fancy solution to something as basic as therapy. Nothing can be farther away from the truth. The reality of many medical systems around the globe is that there aren’t enough medical professionals to attend all therapy-related illnesses. As the world’s population gets older, this problem will only be intensified, making DTx apps the perfect solution for cases where a digital solution is enough; they can easily scale up to meet growing demands.
DTx’s affordability in comparison to regular therapy is also a point in favor of this technology. The possibility to reach remote areas and improve accessibility also makes it attractive. Reaching out to many people who don’t have the possibility to receive therapy is now feasible. Simple tasks like helping people take their medicines, or remembering to take a blood sample are some of the things a DTx app can help patients with.
MedTech app development will be closely linked to the evolution of DTx. Each one will reinforce the other as new solutions pop up. Virtual reality is a complementary technology that can help patients in need of psychological therapy. As costs fall and technology improves, it is expected to become even more accessible. This shows great potential for all sorts of mental illnesses.
One of the strengths of DTx is its potential to change people’s behavior. Research shows that behavioral interventions pose a small clinical risk, so this should give regulators a reason to explore DTx’s opportunities. Actually, any health problem that has an evidence-based behavioral or psychological solution is potentially susceptible to be treated with DTx. Health apps can play a major role in this, especially as they help users get familiarized with new technologies through good UX design.
Challenges of Digital Therapeutics
Although it has great potential, DTx has not taken off. As something relatively new, it still faces many challenges. One of the most important ones is to cross the threshold of user resistance. Many people feel weird receiving therapy from an app rather than face-to-face with a medical professional. This resistance will decline as more DTx apps are developed and more doctors understand its benefits. Also, as more doctors learn to distinguish the good apps from the bad ones, the risk of recommending a poor solution becomes minimized.
Another important challenge is regulation. Data and clinical trials should be central to obtain the necessary approvals. The industry must set high standards in order to gain medical and consumer trust. Health apps that promote themselves as DTx without the proper medical data only damage the industry because they deteriorate consumer trust.
R&D is another challenge. At the moment, big medical companies have shown little or no interest in DTx. This is explained by many as the result of DTx apps having an entirely different business model. Adopting these new strategies would mean for big companies to leave aside their money-making business units. In the long term, as DTx numbers grow, we will surely see more big companies going into this business. In the meantime, there is a great deal of opportunity for small players and startups to develop B2B2C business models between them, doctors, and users.
Digital Therapeutics has great potential. It should not be seen as a replacement for traditional treatments, but rather as complementary. There are two paths companies wanting to explore DTx’s potential can take.
The first is to work in existing fields where therapy has shown a positive impact. The second is to venture into the unknown and explore areas not associated with therapy. Whichever road you decide to take you will be needing a trusted partner to develop your DTx app. When the time comes don’t think twice. Contact us, we’d love to help you build that Digital Therapeutics app.