Digital Therapeutics: Transforming Healthcare in The Digital Age

Photo of Przemysław Turkowski

Przemysław Turkowski

Updated Feb 21, 2024 • 7 min read
digital therapeuthics

In an era where technology pervades every aspect of our lives, healthcare is experiencing its own digital revolution, and digital therapeutics play a big part in it.

When it comes to health software, many people know wellness apps that help you meditate and be mindful, or the hypochondriac’s favorite WebMB symptom checker.

What we don’t talk about as often is prescription applications that can actually improve people’s health, based on clinical studies. That is what Digital Therapeutics (DTx) is, and it’s an exciting and fairly new frontier in the area of using digital technologies to improve healthcare.

What are digital therapeutics?

Digital therapeutics are healthcare solutions that provide evidence-based therapeutic interventions. This is powered by complex software that helps people prevent and deal with physical, mental, and behavioral conditions, such as diabetes, migraines, ADHD, or substance abuse.

The goal of DTx is to improve behaviors and lifestyles in a way that minimizes the negative effects of health conditions. Digital therapeutics apps can be used as a standalone therapy, or they can accompany other types of treatments – they can be very effective at helping patients stay on top of their daily medications.

Technology behind digital therapeutics

Digital therapeutics leverages mobile devices and online connectivity to help people deal with health issues. DTx applications collect data about the patient and provide information about managing symptoms. They often use gamification as a way to encourage healthier behaviors, as well as options for peer support, and sometimes even coaching from human specialists.

Difference between wellness apps and digital therapeutics

It’s important not to confuse wellness apps with DTx apps. The main difference is that DTx software is built based on clinically proven methods for managing medical conditions, especially chronic diseases. DTx apps are rigorously tested and validated to prove that they improve patient outcomes, whereas wellness apps have no such requirements.

The evolution of digital therapeutics

Online sources provide varying information about the origins of the term ‘digital therapeutics’, but it’s safe to say that the idea of using software to aid patients has been around as long as computers have.

However, it wasn’t until the proliferation of smartphones and other mobile devices that digital therapeutics started to become viable. In fact, the first governmentally-approved, prescription-based application was BlueStar, an app for patients with type 2 diabetes.

Approved in 2010 and rolled out in 2014, it was described as “world-changing” that a software application went through the same regulatory review process as medical devices.

Another notable example was GAIA AG. Proven by multiple randomized control trials of over 4,000 patients in the US and Europe, it gained regulatory approval in 2015 to provide their fully automated, multi-language depression treatment deprexis.

In 2017, the Digital Therapeutics Alliance was founded. It’s a non-profit organization for evidence-driven advancement of digital therapeutics. They set the future direction for the development of digital therapeutics, provide education, and supply necessary tools to assess and use DTx products for patients, clinicians, and policymakers.

Benefits of digital therapeutics

DTx offers a promising frontier in healthcare, with the potential to improve disease management, preventive care, and treatment outcomes. Their digital nature allows for wide accessibility and continuous, active intervention, making them a valuable tool in modern medicine. However, they may be limited by regulatory frameworks, which need to be adapted to fully capture the potential of DTx products, and ensure their safety and efficacy.

Digital therapeutics can improve health outcomes for patients, reduce the workload for healthcare practitioners, decrease the long-term costs of care, and increase access to treatment for underprivileged populations.

Because they’re provided through online apps, DTx solutions are highly accessible and versatile. They can be adapted to various diseases or disorders for prevention, management, and treatment. Since smart devices are everywhere, DTx can easily integrate into users' daily lives, allowing for consistent, active interventions.

DTx has been used to:

  • Manage chronic diseases like diabetes, asthma, and heart disease
  • Prevent substance abuse disorders such as alcoholism and opioid abuse
  • Treat psychiatric conditions like depression, anxiety disorders, PTSD, and ADHD

There are increasingly more types of digital therapeutics solutions. They’re entering a broad range of fields, including oncology, neurology, gynecology, urology, and more. These applications range from common conditions such as migraines and irritable bowel syndrome to more specialized areas like amyloidosis and solitary plasmacytoma.

Their digital nature makes monitoring and feedback easy, which helps patients remember about their medications, as well as improve the effects of psychotherapy.

The content of DTx products can be highly personalized, including different features like questionnaires, games, or telehealth options. With the proliferation of AI, modern DTx apps will get increasingly more sophisticated.

Examples of digital therapeutics in action

  • EndeavorRx is a digital prescription treatment designed to enhance focus in children aged between 8 to 12 years, who are primarily inattentive or diagnosed with a combined-type ADHD and show evident attention deficits. The therapy, which is the first of its kind to receive authorization from the FDA, leverages a video game platform to deliver the treatment, targeting specific brain regions critical for maintaining attention.
  • The Kata app is a personal inhalation coach, which supports a daily therapy routine and uses AI for better inhalation. It provides step-by-step instructions and explanations for the best possible inhalation therapy.
  • Omada offers a personalized program with tools and support needed to reach health goals, including weight loss, diabetes management, or general health improvement.
  • Vorvida provides a solution to help people with alcohol abuse issues.
  • Canvas Dx uses AI to help physicians diagnose autism spectrum disorder in young children between 18 and 72 months.

Challenges and future outlook

Despite the promise of digital therapeutics, there are valid challenges and concerns. Privacy is a significant issue, as these applications handle sensitive health data. Additionally, access to technology can be a barrier, as not everyone has a smartphone or reliable internet. Regulatory challenges also pose a hurdle, as the field navigates the fine line between medical devices and software applications.

Nonetheless, the future of digital therapeutics is promising, with a growing recognition of their potential to transform healthcare.

Experts predict an increasing integration of digital therapeutics into standard healthcare, with clinicians prescribing digital therapeutics alongside or instead of traditional treatments.

The expanding capabilities of artificial intelligence and machine learning will likely further enhance the personalization and effectiveness of digital therapeutics.

Treatments for a digital age

Digital therapeutics represent a significant shift in healthcare, merging technology with medicine to create innovative solutions for a range of health conditions. While there are challenges to navigate, the potential benefits are immense.

As digital therapeutics evolve, they could eventually help countless people avoid negative consequences of poor lifestyle choices, as well as manage long-term diseases in a way that doesn’t disrupt their daily lives.

Photo of Przemysław Turkowski

More posts by this author

Przemysław Turkowski

Client Partner at Netguru

We're Netguru!

At Netguru we specialize in designing, building, shipping and scaling beautiful, usable products with blazing-fast efficiency

Let's talk business!

Trusted by: