Digital Therapeutics: An Emerging Area of Health Care

Young girl wearing earbuds using a tablet by a window

Over the last few years, startups and pharmaceutical companies have been developing technologies in an emerging area of health care. This technology has been labeled Digital Therapeutics (DTx).  So, what is DTx, and why are these new tools important for your move to value-based care?

Digital Therapeutics is defined as software that delivers a clinical mechanism of action. This includes situations such as when a patient uses the software to help prevent, manage, or treat a disease or condition, or improve the effectiveness of a medication used at the same time.

The difference between DTx and digital health apps you may have used from Apple’s App Store, the Google Play Store (such as mobile health or wearables), is that DTx make a specific claim to improve your health – think of current risk-benefit assessments and FDA approved indications for medications. 

The Gamification of Health Care

Akili’s Endeavor™ – an action video game for iOS – is one technology currently looking for FDA approval, and an eye-opening example of what may develop within this space.

“How prepared are patients, parents, and health care providers for apps that play like video games to be medicine?”

The app has been shown to significantly improve attention in 10-year-old children with ADHD after one month of use, compared to a control. The on-screen tasks challenge children to focus, while an adaptive algorithm personalizes the experience to meet each child where they are and help them improve. FDA approval may hinge on a separate active study with a longer treatment design that also includes patients treated with stimulant medication (excluded in the initial study).

What is Medicine?

Many have likely heard these familiar phrases: Laughter is medicine or Food is medicine.  How prepared are patients, parents, and health care providers for apps that play like video games to be medicine?

Over time, with more high quality evidence from well-designed studies, patients and providers will become more aware of DTx technologies. The technology’s reputation and number of past successes will grow, and coverage mechanisms will increase.  Overall, value-based care leaders should work to maximize the benefit to patients and providers participating in value-based care agreements.