How could digital therapeutics help the NHS?
Whether it be simple apps that provide users with mental health help or meditation, or long-term behaviour trackers and treatment optimisation software for patients with more serious conditions, the digital therapeutics market is set to grow larger and larger in the healthcare sector. Companies in this area aim to help patients digitally, withthe Digital Therapeutics Alliance industry consortium defining it as providing treatments that “deliver evidence-based therapeutic interventions to patients that are driven by high-quality software programs to prevent, manage, or treat a medical disorder or disease.” With Apple seeking FDA approval for the cardiological diagnostic capabilities of the latest Apple Watch, it seems probable that huge names in the tech industry will begin dabbling in digital therapeutics in the very near future.
One might think that the increase in the strength of the connection between electronics and therapeutics would take the human element out of healthcare, but in reality, these new solutions have helped make the doctor and patient closer than ever before. For example, digital therapeutics company Insulia is based on the link between a doctor’s computer and a type 2 diabetes patient’s mobile phone. The doctor can personalise the patient’s treatment plan (their blood glucose goals and insulin prescription) through Insulia’s web portal. All of this information is automatically relayed to the patient’s phone, where the app generates a real-time insulin dosage. The prescription is based on an algorithm that takes into account the doctor’s original plan, the last three of the patient’s blood glucose readings and any hypoglycaemia that the patient has experienced recently.
Another example of this is a company called Propeller, which helps patients suffering from asthma or COPD. A sensor is attached to their inhaler, enabling it to be paired with their mobile phone. Every time the patient uses their inhaler, Propeller takes data to later deliver personalised warnings and reminders to use their inhaler at certain times.
Of course, the technology in isolation is already very impressive, but what makes it so important is the current NHS situation. In many parts of the UK, access to GPs is limited due to a nationwide shortage; according to the Nuffield Trust, there are 58 GPs per 100,000 people, (as of 27th June 2019) down from 66 in 2009. Even when you do get to see a GP, an average consultation lasts only nine minutes, making it hard for patients to have meaningful discussions about their condition. Digital therapeutics could help this significantly, as patients can now be issued information about their condition through their mobile phone, with the information itself still coming from doctors or through an algorithm. This will ensure that patients with conditions that need close management will no longer feel alone and will always be in reach of personalised medical information. The technology still has a long way to go, but for now, digital therapeutics are already helping many people across the world manage their conditions autonomously.