By Joe Riley, Psilos Group
Imagine that you are a borderline type 2 diabetic. If financial resources were not an issue, you could hire someone to follow you around, like a 24/7 personal trainer. This trainer would make sure you walked 10,000 steps a day, worked with weights to build muscle mass, and stopped eating that daily ice cream and drinking that glass of wine.
Not realistic. But a good idea.
This is where a new modality – digital therapeutics – comes into play today. Commonly referred to as “software as a drug,” digital therapeutics essentially relies on software to similarly prevent your transition to full-blown diabetic – using online coaches, electronic messages, and social networks.
Many digital health companies deploy software modules as an enhancement to, or even a substitute for, a prescription drug. They are very affordable and effective, and poised to play a critical role in substantially improving the efficiency of American health care.
Digital therapeutics is less than a $1 billion market today and is positioned to become a $6 billion market, according to a recent research report by Goldman Sachs, supported by Psilos Group in its 2016 OUTLOOK on digital therapeutics.
Digital therapeutics improves health outcomes by addressing chronic conditions such as type 2 diabetes, depression and anxiety, and drug addiction through behavioral changes, before they become worse and require elaborate treatment. This 21st-century modality marries the latest developments in behavioral economics, smartphone apps, game-ification, biometric sensors, data analytics, and artificial intelligence.
The Problem with American Health Care: How Digital Therapeutics Helps
America has the best doctors and the best technology but, by global standards, not particularly good outcomes. This is mostly because far too many Americans suffer from treatable chronic conditions often untreated until they require radical intervention. The US would be far better off if its doctors and advanced technology were focused mostly on treating conditions that are not always preventable, such as cancer and simultaneously embraced methods for patients with chronic conditions to treat themselves. This is precisely the role of digital therapeutics.
A Digital Therapeutics Example: HealthMine
One of the pioneers of digital therapeutics is HealthMine, a Psilos Group-backed company that works with many employee health plans, culling data from them to identify people with chronic illnesses and offer them targeted software to self-manage their problem. Today there are other digital therapeutics companies in addition to HealthMine, including Pear Therapeutics, Omada Health, Big Health, and Canary Health. In total, there are now more than 50 digital therapeutics companies, with some still in stealth mode.
HealthMine works behind the scenes of health care plans to compile data on the health of their members, including their medical and pharmaceutical histories and lab results. This information is processed through a proprietary HealthMine platform that searches for irregularities such as abnormal heart rates, high glucose readings, and high body mass indexes. Then HealthMine prescribes tailored programs for people with suspect health from 3,500 specific recommendations.
Results have been impressive. A three-year HealthMine study of 120,000 people enrolled in its wellness programs found that far more than average visited doctors for preventive reasons, accounting for 10% to 20% fewer hospital admissions, bed days, and emergency room visits in the first year.
Creator of Prescription Digital Therapies: Pear Therapeutics
Pear Therapeutics uses software to treat a wide range of behavioral health disorders. The company’s therapies, called E-formulations, are mobile digital therapies that provide patients with a set of rewards linked to abstinence and completion of software modules.
One Pear Therapeutics product is reSET, a treatment tool used in conjunction with face-to-face therapy to treat substance abuse disorders. More than 500 patients with this problem in 10 treatment centers were split into two camps for 12 weeks of testing. One camp received traditional face-to-face therapy only. The other camp received a reduced amount of therapy plus reSET. Abstinence was measured twice weekly.
Among patients who tested positive for drug use at the start of the study, 27% of reSET users were abstinent in study weeks nine through 12, compared with only 3% of patients in the same period who relied on face-to-face therapy alone.
Other Pear software-based clinical interventions are under development for the treatment of insomnia, traumatic brain injury, attention deficit disorder, schizophrenia, depression, and acute and chronic pain.
The Future of Digital Therapeutics or “Software as a Drug”
Where are we headed? Happily, traditional fee-for-service health care, a persistent blockade in the quality of the American health care system, is being replaced by value-based medicine and its emphasis on good outcomes and lower prices. Digital therapeutics will become a key component of value-based medicine’s road to success, demonstrating new ways to effectively marry health care and cutting-edge technology.