For centuries, we have administered medical aid through a pill bottle or, in more serious instances, an IV drip. But the recent decade has seen us propelled into a new universe, where healing doesn’t just come from pharmacies but also from app stores. This shift has been brought about by the rise of Digital Therapeutics (DTx), healing that can be administered right through our smartphones.
The title, Drugs vs. DTx, is a classic case of the “it’s complicated” relationship status. On one hand, they stand toe-to-toe, each offering unique modes of healing, on the other, they do their best when working together.
Digital therapeutics deliver evidence-based therapeutic interventions driven by high-quality software programs to prevent, manage, or treat a medical disorder or disease.
Think of it like traditional drugs, but instead of swallowing a pill, you’re tapping on an app.
But this isn’t just a novel concept. They hold the promise of improved health outcomes, greater accessibility, and cost-effectiveness in patient care when used based on proper evidence.
The Dance of Difference
Recently, The Medical Futurist published an insightful infographic, highlighting the key differences between traditional drug-based therapies and digital therapeutics. This graphic visualisation captures how this new approach to treatment could help us achieve the same old goal of helping patients get better.
In many ways, DTx tools are easier and quicker to develop, they’re cheaper, and they navigate a different regulatory channel. The monitoring is a whole different ball game, as DTx allows for real-time, automatic monitoring. As we discussed, it is also very different from the user experience point of view: I head to the app store instead of the pharmacy, and I use an app instead of swallowing pills.
Digital therapeutics are more than just a novel concept. They hold the promise of improved health outcomes, greater accessibility, and cost-effectiveness in patient care when used based on proper evidence.
Privacy + Access = Wider Reach
In a previous article, we explored DTx and its benefits.
DTx solutions are typically delivered through smartphone apps. In other words, via a channel pretty much everyone has access to. Accessibility is one of the key factors for any new solution to become widely used.
But there is another upside: it allows a certain kind of privacy, bringing treatments to the patients’ homes, and removing stigmas typically connected to a number of therapies, either in substance abuse care or in mental health.
Great potential & unique risks
A report by McKinsey lists great examples: “Research has shown that digital disease management can drive a 45 percent reduction in the three-month rate of major adverse cardiovascular events and a 50 percent reduction in the 30-day readmission rates for patients after acute myocardial infarction.” These impressive figures show what traditional and digital therapeutics together can do.
Another interesting study highlights an often-overlooked factor as well: sociocultural influences that can impact the efficacy of DTx. External conditions, such as demographic factors, sociocultural and cognitive abilities, strongly influence what medicine can do and this is equally valid for traditional and digital therapeutics.
While DTx apps won’t have side effects like traditional drugs, they do have their own set of challenges. Digital barriers, privacy and data security issues are among these.
Eight key elements of DTx
According to the McKinsey report, impactful digital therapeutics solutions typically contain most, if not all, of the following eight elements:
- Regular monitoring, measurement, and feedback through connected medical devices
- Keeping payers (patients) and providers in the loop
- Personalised coaching and support
- Gamified behavioral modification
- Building a thriving community
- Unified digital health ecosystems
- Patient education
- Advanced analytics to predict and prevent health events
However, if we look at it from a little distance, these all point towards giving patients better tools for health management. No rocket science here, just additional steps towards patient empowerment, and better partnerships between healthcare professionals and patients.
Fitting DTx into the traditional medical toolbox
So, how do we make room for DTx in the millennia-old framework of medicine? It’s a fascinating question. We all understand drugs. That was our trusted tool, the “go-to” remedy for all our health issues. DTx is a brand new “weapon” in our arsenal, with fresh characteristics, waiting to fit into the established framework.
In conclusion, it’s not about Drugs vs DTx. It’s about Drugs & DTx, leveraging the strengths of both for maximal benefits.
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