Digital Therapeutics from the grass roots perspective

  • Posted on 03.05.2019

Digital Therapeutics from the grass roots perspective


Jessica Shull

Strategic Adviser at the Digital Therapeutics Alliance


Jessica Shull will be a speaker at the MedTech Forum on 16/5. Find more about the programme here

Due to the makeup of our household, I am privy to the daily activities of a gang of fourteen-year-old girls. They are all, to a one, surgically attached to their mobile phones. I’ve learned from them that they trust their mobile phones more than they trusts books in a library or what the high school teachers tell them. When they want to determine if a rash is contagious, or want to know why they have white spots on their nails, they go straight to their phones. This is not to say a mobile-centric world is recommended. It simply provides a glimpse of a trend we face as this generation gets older and takes responsibility for their healthcare.

I live in Spain where the wait time to see an orthopaedic surgeon for severe back pain can be 90 days. A patient asking to see a psychologist for stress and depression will also have to choose between an appointment in three months, or a few hastily prescribed pills now.  There is over-saturation and lack of professional staff. Spain is not the only country in Europe in this position. It is quite easy to imagine, therefore, where today’s fourteen-year-olds will be looking for treatment by the time they are adults.

Digital therapeutics (DTx) are digital health products that are driven by high-quality software programs and deliver evidence-based therapeutic interventions to patients to prevent, manage, or treat a medical disorder or disease. These digital health products are used independently or in concert with medications or devices, to optimize health outcomes. These are not wellness or fitness apps. DTx are clinically validated and often prescribed by a physician.

A few weeks ago, I was speaking with a friend who uses a meditation app (currently under study for clinical validation) every day, without fail.  This was the one thing that gave him calm and focus in a hectic household with multiple young children and a full-time job as a university professor. He was well aware he could take medication or see a psychologist, and the wait times would be tolerable. But he prefers and benefits from this digital one-on-one session, which he could attend each morning without even leaving his bed.

He pays the annual user fee willingly, but admits the price point may be inhibitive for some people in a lower economic bracket who could really benefit from the app. “But if health insurance covered it, we’d be golden. And healthier.”

The stage is set. It now falls to the medical tech industry and stakeholders to ensure that digital therapeutics are (1) developed with real and future users in mind and (2) regulated carefully to ensure evidence-based claims of efficacy are the foundation of validated reimbursement schemes. Knowing you have a trusted, scientifically-validated piece of technology supporting your mental health or guiding your insulin use or managing pain, is the future I want to see.

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