Digital health aims at some of the biggest healthcare challenges, including lowering costs, fostering engagement and improving health outcomes. However, before achieving these goals, it must win over providers and payers to secure physician buy-in and reimbursement.
The first step is defining the digital therapeutics (DTx) landscape. There are so many new technologies hitting the healthcare scene that it can be hard to tease apart the differences.
Here’s what providers and patients need to know about digital therapeutics and how they can start holistically integrating the breakthroughs into the services they provide.
Digital therapeutics vs. digital health vs. telehealth
Nowadays, you often hear these terms used interchangeably. Indeed, there is a lot of overlap between them, but it is important to distinguish between them.
In a recent digital therapeutics services report , the health experts at Star Global defined the differences as the following. Digital health is the broadest category and refers to the use of digital technologies, including online platforms, wearable technologies, connectivity and sensors to enhance healthcare delivery efficiency. It’s focused on driving personalization and on-demand care.
Digital therapeutics are a subset of digital health. Digital therapeutics deliver evidence-based therapeutic interventions and refers to a broad swathe of products and services designed to address stakeholder needs across the healthcare ecosystem.
Most DTx products are patient-centric, but there are some like the AI virtual assistant and diagnostic toolkit Suki. By smoothing out the provider workflow, it creates more time and interaction for providers to have with patients.
Finally, telehealth is how digital health operates. It’s the channel that connects all of this together.
Digital therapeutics also use many of the same technologies that power telehealth, including video consultation, messaging and remote patient monitoring. Thus the gains in adoption telehealth has made this year have similarly accelerated digital therapeutics traction in the market.
The digital therapeutics landscape over the next few years
The overall prognosis for the DTx market is very strong. Industry analysts are predicting a sustained 26.7% CAGR through 2025, with continued growth expected beyond there.
With that said, while there may be a lot of upshot potential, providers should not assume the widespread adoption and scaling of these technologies to be a foregone conclusion. The good news is that the technology has already proven itself in numerous different areas.
Whether it’s Welldoc’s BlueStar diabetes management, Constant Therapy’s cognitive health toolkit or other applications, digital therapeutics already are delivering immense patient health outcome gains.
Overcoming key challenges
But a few challenges remain. First is navigating issues around regulatory approval. As digital therapeutics are an entirely new class of medicines that offer “Beyond the Pill” solutions, they don’t follow the same approval pipeline as a traditional biopharmaceutic.
While the FDA has begun approving some digital therapeutics innovations, there’s still no streamlined process. For this reason, providers and payers need to allow some flexibility or create additional metrics by which they evaluate these products. For DTx to truly take off, reimbursement must be solved. But in the meantime, providers and payers need to consider the clear and proven advantages that DTx products might have already demonstrated even if they haven’t achieved approval yet.
However, the onus does fall onto providers and payers to share this information with patients, especially for those with chronic conditions. Take the MSK physiotherapy digital therapeutic Kaia Health, for example. It’s been proven effective in controlled studies and in use worldwide with 400,000+ users, but it’s still awaiting FDA approval (as of this writing).
Isn’t that enough for providers to start considering it as a therapy option? Granted, it will come down to a case-by-case basis. Starting to integrate these therapies now benefits patients and providers by improving the quality of care and payers by lowering overall costs making it a win-win-win.
Finally, education is also essential for everyone. Providers, patients, and payers all need to know more about these therapies. DTx companies must shoulder some of this responsibility, but it’s also time for these key groups to understand better the technologies redefining healthcare.
A DTx Future: Improving the Entire Healthcare Ecosystem
We’re only at the infancy of the DTx era. Even if it delivers just 20% of what it promises, it will radically not just healthcare, but our relationship to health itself.
By lowering costs, providing on-demand and personalized care, and offering flexibility, digital therapeutics will mitigate and maybe even solve some of today’s most pressing healthcare issues.
Now’s the time for providers and payers to get onboard to start accelerating the pace of that change.