Originally Published in Forbes by Nik Vassev
With enormous advances in digital health innovation, we are quickly moving into an age where software platforms will be treating millions of patients. Digital transformation in healthcare has accelerated the use of technologies like mobile applications, artificial intelligence, and virtual reality in order to solve major problems that exist in healthcare delivery.
Traditional healthcare cannot adequately respond to current demands and socioeconomic needs, leading to an uptake of digital solutions. Digital therapeutics (DTx) are evidence-based therapeutic interventions delivered by high-quality software programs that prevent, manage or treat a medical disorder or disease. They've grown instrumentally with numerous clinical trials, FDA approvals, and a 79% increase in investment over 2020. With the FDA loosening regulations and hundreds of products in development, the latest estimates predict that consumer adoption of digital treatments will grow more than tenfold by 2023.
Mobile digital therapeutics facilitate personalized DTx interventions that observe, understand, and coach individuals in their daily life. Traditional health and wellness apps provide some support for various conditions, but digital therapeutics are more sophisticated, undergo many clinical trials, and have scientifically proven results.
PEAR Therapeutics was the first company to receive approval from the FDA for a mobile digital therapeutic that significantly improved clinical outcomes in treatments for opioid use disorder. Prescription digital therapeutics made by PEAR Therapeutics use mobile applications as an adjunct to outpatient treatments for diseases in therapeutic areas such as psychiatric and neurological diseases.
Many other mobile DTx applications allow patients to receive therapy and/or manage their health-related behaviors such as physical activity, food intake, and substance consumption. For example, one mobile health DTx platform, Clickotine, helps smokers quit using a customized plan and scientifically-based strategies to overcome cravings as well as social support and direct access to quit aids. With individuals taking more responsibility for their health than ever before, DTx platforms can allow for a truly comprehensive and personalized approach to improved health outcomes.
AI plays a significant role in driving personalization and increasing engagement of software treatments. AI-enabled therapeutics are providing diagnosis and truly personalized care by tailoring not just the treatment itself but also anticipating needs and challenges based on the individual's behavior.
Proactive AI alerts and notifications can encourage medication adherence and anticipate when a user may need additional support or even some encouragement. In the case of Clickotine, the application knows that a user may get a craving after purchasing a coffee and sends a message of support to remind them to stay strong.
Another innovative AI digital therapeutic is Cognetivity Neurosciences, a medical technology company that recently received FDA clearance for its AI platform for early detection of cognitive impairment, dementia and Alzheimer's disease. The diagnostic methodology has not changed since the discovery of amnesia and dementia over 100 years ago, and AI is able to be very exact at a very low cost and much faster than existing solutions that are mainly paper-based surveys.
With the vast improvements in hardware performance and ergonomics, virtual reality should become the step between the therapy room and the real world. Virtual reality can scale healthcare to the masses and lower costs — all while providing data-driven interventions that are measurable and effective.
In November 2021, the FDA approved the very first VR digital therapeutic called EaseVRx. In its press release, the FDA described the prescription DTx as an "immersive virtual reality system that uses cognitive behavioral therapy and other behavioral methods to help with pain reduction in patients 18 years of age and older with diagnosed chronic lower back pain."
By providing virtual care at incredible hyper-realistic locations and by gamifying interventions, this medium can also increase treatment adherence when compared to mobile and real-world solutions. My company, Rocket VR Health, is developing a DTx solution for stem cell patients who are isolated in their hospital rooms for a month or more. Using virtual reality, we are able to transport them out of their hospital room to nature locations where they follow a proven therapy framework that has been digitized. This medium can allow hospitals to scale their proven mental health therapies without needing any additional staff.
Looking To The Future
Digital therapeutics companies are expanding their impact across different parts of the patient journey and are redefining healthcare delivery. Many technology platforms already provide amazing outcomes for patients, smarter tools for clinicians, and cost-effective solutions for payers. With so much innovation in this field, we can all soon look forward to a world where technology allows us to lead healthier and happier lives.