What’s the Difference Between Digital Therapeutics and Digital Health?

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Call it what you will – digital health, telehealth, distance medicine, etc. – remote-enabled healthcare is in huge demand. Where does digital therapeutics fit into this picture?

Digital health for a digital world. That’s the thought, right? But what is digital health? And what role do digital therapeutics play in the digital health ecosystem? In this post, we’ll provide examples and definitions of both. We’ll also examine how they fit together to build patient engagement and help solve some critical healthcare issues.

Digital Health: Definition and Examples

ZDNet defines digital health as “using technology to help improve individuals’ health and wellness […] everything from wearable gadgets to ingestible sensors, from mobile health apps to artificial intelligence, from robotic carers to electronic records.” In short, digital health is the intersection between technical innovation and healthcare. 

Digital health and its close relatives, telehealth and telemedicine, have shot to prominence in the wake of the COVID pandemic. However, remote healthcare has been around for a long time. Here are just a few familiar examples of digital health in action:

  • A diabetic self-monitors their condition at home, using a Bluetooth-enabled blood glucose monitor that sends twice-daily readings to a log in the patient’s smartphone. This helps the patient and their care team track their progress.
  • Each day, an asthma patient uses an app to check air quality and track their symptoms. They can see a link between high pollen levels and increased breathing problems, which helps them avoid an attack. 
  • Every week since the pandemic started, a person suffering from anxiety and depression has a session with their psychologist over Zoom.

In each case, there’s a crossing point between managing peoples’ medical conditions and using technology to make it easier. Such techniques have already proven their value. So, how does digital therapeutics fit into the equation?

Examples of Digital Therapeutics

Digital therapeutics are software programs (usually mobile apps) that deliver evidence-based therapeutic interventions aimed at treating, monitoring, or preventing various health conditions. In a recent article by the Star Health and Wellness team, experts suggested that digital therapeutics would transform healthcare in 5 to 10 years. Let’s look at two examples of what’s currently available:

  • Medtronic’s Guardian Connect system is a sensor-based continuous glucose monitor that allows diabetics to track their blood sugar in near-real-time. The system provides alerts 10-60 minutes before a high/low glucose event, enabling the user to head off potential problems. And the companion app analyzes how glucose levels interact with foods, exercise, and insulin intake, delivering personalized insight that can help each patient live a more balanced life.
  • Propeller adds sensors that patients can attach to their own inhalers to the asthma app functionality described above. The sensors track when, where, and how frequently the patient uses their inhaler. This is added to air quality and weather data and analyzed – illuminating connections between various factors and asthma attacks. It also creates reports that the patient can share with their doctor to optimize their treatment. 

As we can see, digital therapeutics help solve the classic last-mile problem: getting treatment to patients. They also help people proactively monitor chronic conditions. But what impact will this have on the larger healthcare community?

Digital Therapeutics’ Impact on Quality Healthcare 

In the Star digital healthcare guide mentioned above, several key benefits are associated with digital therapeutic products. These include: 

  • Increasing patient adherence. 
  • Enhancing patient engagement.
  • Utilizing proven alternative (i.e. non-drug) treatments where appropriate.
  • Providing greater access to healthcare information and personalized therapies.

For pharma companies, providers, payers, and app developers, digital therapeutics also provide a trove of data that can be used to spur innovations and inform new therapies. 

Organizations around the world have already seen the advantages of digital health. An increasing body of evidence is proving that digital therapeutic products are a valuable ally in delivering quality care. In my opinion, these two things are not just going to shape the future of healthcare; they’re going to revolutionize it.

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