The Emergence of Digital Therapeutics in Medicine

By Nicole McCauley

This year at HITMC 2019, we spoke with Greg Chittim, Health IT and Med Tech Strategic Leader at Health Advances, about some of current trends in healthcare that he is most excited about. In the video, Greg shares his thoughts on the emergence of digital therapeutics in medicine. Greg got us thinking about digital therapeutics and the potential impact being driven by yet another traditionally consumer-centric technology, video games, that is pushing its way into medicine.

At Matter Health, our passion for healthcare and technology runs deep. We love working with companies that solve real problems and address the flaws in our healthcare system in new and innovative ways. We know that there are simply too many opportunities for improvement for a “because we’ve always done it that way” approach to medicine. That’s why it’s thrilling to see digital therapeutics garnering so much interest from the media, thought leaders, patients and investors. By intersecting medicine and digital technologies, digital therapeutics is transforming the industry by providing a broad spectrum of prevention, management and treatment with the help of software programs, video games and simulations. It’s not only empowering healthcare providers and patients alike, it’s creating a wide range of safe, effective, data-driven alternatives to traditional medicine.

Companies like Akili Interactive, a prescription digital medicine company, designed a video game called Project Evo that aims to improve cognitive deficits in children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD or ADD) and autism spectrum disorder (ASD) by multitasking through game play that engages patients through a four-week treatment cycle. 2Morrow, Inc. addresses unhealthy behaviors that cause chronic diseases with digital therapeutics, utilizing an approach called acceptance & commitment therapy, or ACT, to help users become aware of unhelpful thoughts and patterns so they can move forward with committed action toward their goals. Similarly, Omada Health provides personalized support for people at risk for, or living with, chronic conditions and their ever-evolving needs, empowering them to achieve their health goals.

Ieso Digital Health offers a unique take on the industry by providing online cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) for patients experiencing common mental health issues. Treatment is delivered directly by a fully-qualified therapist through typed conversation using Ieso’s secure online therapy platform, which can be accessed by any device that has access to the internet. Appointments can also be scheduled through the platform, and patients can revisit transcripts of their previous therapy sessions in-between sessions to remind themselves of what they have learned, as well as updating their therapist on progress using a secure messaging system.

By helping these patients via digital therapeutics, physicians collect more and more data, which in turn can be used to support more industry research. Some may also may translate to cost savings: WellDoc’s digital assistant BlueStar, a digital therapeutic for Type 2 diabetes management, has analysis which shows it could lead to an average savings of more than $250 per patient per month. The app-driven program also features behavioral coaching, motivational messages, educational content, and other tools for population health analysis.

We are just beginning to scratch the surface in terms of the digital therapeutics. While patient care is an obvious place to start, doctors and medical professionals are also starting to get some attention.

Matter client Level Ex has created mobile video games directed at physicians, using state-of-the-art advanced video game technology to capture the challenges of practicing medicine. Played by more than 500,000 healthcare professionals, Level Ex’s games revolutionize the way physicians stay sharp in their specialties—leveraging cognitive neuroscience to recreate the thrills and challenges of practicing medicine. The games not only become a tool that physicians can have fun with, but the fun is allowing them to learn new skills that they can then apply in the OR without a life at stake.

The company has 150 physician advisors who help the company create the realities of medicine, as well as contributors who test the products and share their feedback.

Each has a number of levels that medics can play through, choosing their surgical tools and medications, and practicing the techniques that they’ll later use with their patients. Each level is played against a clock, with a set number of attempts possible, and with high scores awarded on completion. One in three US surgeons are signed up to the service.

Training through VR or gameplay isn’t anything new: industries such as aviation and manufacturing have been training their employees this way for years, and the results speak for themselves. In industries where a life could truly be at risk, teaching through simulation is a no-brainer. Companies such as Level Ex are making training easier and more accessible by adding a mobile element in an industry where a 70-hour work week is the norm.

As the healthcare industry looks to shake its archaic perception and evolve through technological advancements, digital therapeutics is an excellent example of how traditionally consumer-focused technologies are being adapted and applied to medicine in a highly impactful way. As outsiders like Amazon and Alphabet continue to push into healthcare, we expect that we will see more and more examples of novel applications of technology in healthcare. Whether it is a video game to treat addiction or train a doctor, or a virtual care platform or a drone drug delivery, the possibilities for tech in healthcare are endless. There’s no doubt that it is an exciting time of change for healthcare, and we are thrilled to witness it and work with so many amazing brands/organizations that are helping to drive the change.

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