Why providers are key to digital therapeutic uptake

Digital therapeutics are a growing field in the larger digital health space, but they’re still relatively new. What’s the state of the market, and how can the companies behind these products encourage their uptake? 

With regard to mental and behavioral health – a clinical area that’s ripe for digital health investment – many people who have mental illnesses don’t receive care. The scalability of digital therapeutic products is pushing more stakeholders to adopt these tools. 

“Most people are not getting the care that they need. And those who are getting the care that they need are often getting drug therapies,” Celeste James, vice president of equity and population health at Big Health, said during a panel at CES. “And so what I see is that more and more we’re seeing digital therapeutics companies entering the market to enable access.”

The COVID-19 pandemic, which accelerated the use of telehealth as providers and patients sought to remain distant, galvanized digital therapeutics too. But with the wider variety of options available, it also sparked confusion about quality and effectiveness, said Julia Strandberg, chief commercial officer at Pear Therapeutics. 

“It also created a lot of confusion within the market. There is a huge spectrum of digital tools that are in the market today. Some claim that they do things, others are authorized and/or cleared to suggest that they do things,” she said.

Plus, digital therapeutics could help mitigate a shortage of clinicians like physicians, nurses and mental health professionals, said Chris Wasden, head of HappifyDTx at Happify Health. Patients can use digital therapeutics to advance their care on their own, adding hours of therapeutic time that clinicians don’t have to directly provide. 

“Because the reality is we’re not going to double the number of psychiatrists or psychologists we produce in this country. It’s just not going to happen,” Wasden said. “So we have to use technology to get this leverage, so that we can treat more people more effectively.” 

But providers can also be a barrier to digital therapeutic adoption. Clinicians don’t want to act as tech support for managing digital therapeutics, and they need to be easy to explain to patients. They’re also concerned about the amount of data that could come from digital therapeutic products, said Wasden.

Will providers be liable for data that they don’t review? Will they be reimbursed for the time it takes to sort through that information?

“So as we look at these clinicians, they have lots of concerns and fears about a digital therapeutic because it’s new and it’s uncertain. And so we have to address all these workflow issues, these reimbursement issues, not just for the products themselves, but the physicians want to be paid,” Wasden said.

It’s also important for digital therapeutics to work with the technology architecture that providers and health systems are using. 

“That is a really important measure because doctors only use one EMR. And so you need to make sure that you’re embedded within that. They look at one visual display, and so you need to make sure that you’re integrated into that visual display,” Strandberg said. 

“Because the power of the digital therapeutic is not only the therapeutic power to the patient, but it’s the visibility and transparency of what’s happening with that patient when you’re not there. And so it becomes very important that the clinicians have that ability to see it.”

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