Telehealth’s Next Frontier: Delivering Digital Therapeutics

Telehealth’s Next Frontier: Digital Therapeutics

Seeking to push telehealth to its next frontier of treating illness remotely via digital means, industry group the Digital Therapeutics Alliance (DTA) is forming a coalition to evaluate new technologies vital to the expansion of digital therapies worldwide.

DTA announced in a Tuesday (June 14) press release a partnership with Milan-based consultancy Healthware Group “to form a coalition convening thought leaders, policymakers, and professional and trade associations from across the European region to discuss and develop harmonized pathways for the recognition and scalability of digital therapeutics (DTx) at the local, national and regional levels.”

Initially focusing on Europe, the aim of the effort is “co-creating a vision for the future by analyzing existing frameworks and infrastructure, sharing learnings, and developing recommendations to build an environment which ensures safe and effective DTx therapies can be accessible to patients regardless of where they live,” per the announcement.

DTx is a relatively new field of medicine that builds on connected economy mainstays like smartphones to move past telehealth visits that have typically been little more than pre-visit listening sessions for physicians that culminate in office visits.

DTx and others in this emerging field want to deliver treatment digitally without the office visit, although much of the focus of digital therapeutics firms is innovating ways to track and treat patients in-home, particularly seniors with chronic conditions who prefer familiar surroundings.

Moving in that direction, the announcement stated, “Healthware has also developed a corporate investment fund to support and invest in digital health companies and nurtures a vast digital health network and expertise. In the area of digital therapeutics specifically, Healthware Group supports both the research and development of DTx products as well as the go-to-market, access, system integration and adoption strategies in partnership with pharmaceutical companies, digital health and DTx companies and all ecosystem stakeholders.”

See also: From Roblox to RPM, New Reimbursement Rules Spur Telehealth Innovations

Telehealth Goes Primetime

After languishing for years as a promising but limited concept lacking widespread adoption, telehealth was catapulted into the mainstream of healthcare by the pandemic.

In a March brief, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of Inspector General said that more than 28 million Medicare beneficiaries used telehealth in 2020. Total Medicare enrollment as of October 2021 stood at 63.9 million Americans.

“Beneficiaries’ use of telehealth during the pandemic also demonstrates the long-term potential of telehealth to increase access to healthcare for beneficiaries,” HHS said in the March brief. “Further, it shows that beneficiaries particularly benefited from the ability to use telehealth for certain services, such as behavioral health services.”

While behavioral health interventions via video appointment is an obvious use case, innovators are working on delivering more complex treatments using telehealth as the prime conduit.

Read also: As Telehealth Spike Slows, Providers Seek Innovation to Increase Engagement and New Use Cases

On June 8, DTx member and digital therapeutics company Kaia Health released results of a study on digital rehabilitation of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

In a post, Kaia Health said pulmonary rehabilitation (PR) can be delivered at home, saving patients difficult trips to treatment centers. Payors benefit too, with Kaia saying its COPD app “can also significantly reduce costs for payers. According to a study published in the International Journal of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, total annual healthcare expenses were three times higher for patients with COPD than for patients without, with direct medical costs associated with the condition amounting to $32 billion and indirect costs, $20.4 billion.”

On June 3, another DTx member, Dario Health, released results of two studies showing how behavioral changes and medication adherence delivered as digital therapeutics are leading to improvements in patients with Type 2 diabetes.

Better management of disease states to prevent acute episodes using telehealth platforms promises to reduce costs and improve outcomes. Big Tech sees the opportunities as well, in light of Apple’s watchOS 9 coming this fall and featuring improvements to its Sleep app, a Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved app for detecting and tracking atrial fibrillations (AFib), and a Medications app that will help users adhere to proper medication usage, which is a large problem for many.

See also: Apple’s watchOS 9 Moves Deeper Into Health Monitoring