Digital Therapeutics — What Does it Mean? Should Your Senior be Using it?

Technology is the part of everyone’s life including our senior loved ones.

They may not have been early adopters or seek to use technology in the way younger adults have, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t using it to their benefit.

Are they using digital therapeutics? Do they (and you) even know what it is all about?

Digital therapeutics (DTx for short) is a health process and treatment option that utilizes digital, and often online, health technologies to treat a medical or psychological condition.

Digital therapeutics is considered a subset of digital health.

Digital Therapeutics & Chronic Disease

DTx is used for the prevention and management of a wide variety of diseases and conditions including type II diabetes, congestive heart failure, obesity, Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, asthma, substance abuse, anxiety, depression, and several others.

Because seniors’ rate of chronic disease surpasses the younger population, DTx seems like an ideal solution to help them manage chronic disease and improve their quality of life.

While prevention is a goal of DTx, for many of our seniors the primary benefits will come from disease management and avoidance of emergency health crises.

What Can DTx Manage?

DTx for chronic disease management uses a variety of digital devices, such as a computer, smartphone, or tablet. It can be achieved using an app or a software program.

Devices that stand alone, have peripheral components or sensors, or work in collaboration with other technology are essential for delivering digital therapeutics.

These are some of the chronic diseases that are currently being targeted by DTx applications and may be useful for senior loved ones.

  1. Diabetes/Pre-Diabetes
  2. Chronic and Acute Pain Control
  3. Stroke
  4. Cardiovascular disease
  5. Medication adherence
  6. Smoking cessation
  7. Neuromuscular control and physical therapy
  8. Nutrition choices
  9. Weight loss
  10. COPD/Asthma
  11. Anxiety/PTSD
  12. Insomnia

Engaging Digital Therapeutics

Family caregivers and seniors will need to engage DTx in order to gain the benefits it promises. Both will need to interact with it, modify their behaviors as a result, maintain adherence to health treatments, and as time goes on may be able to replace certain therapies being used including drugs.

DTx will increase the level of accountability caregivers and seniors have and encourage them to become more in control of their health. Whether they follow their plan is more evident when they are being remotely monitored. Consequently, their health outcomes will improve.

However, other members of the healthcare team must also adopt it in order for our seniors to use it. Healthcare professionals are aware of the solutions that DTx will provide as there are currently so many useful applications already approved by regulatory agencies.

Adoption Low Among Healthcare Providers

While many healthcare providers are willing to use DTx applications, the current rate of adoption is relatively low. There are some obstacles for providers including reimbursement, clinical evidence of benefits which is coming but lagging at the current time, and continued knowledge gaps.

Most providers want to add DTx in combination with current therapies as they need more trust in the process and benefits for them to use as a sole intervention or as an alternative to drug therapy.

At the present time, digital therapeutics is primarily a function of monitoring vital signs, data and adherence to the treatment plan. But the potential for it to benefit seniors is powerful.

As healthcare providers begin to rely more on testimony of the usefulness of DTx until the scientific research can be completed, more will initiate it with the aging patients. Payers will likely hold their reimbursement until more robust science-based evidence is available.

Education of both providers and users is paramount to the adoption of DTx but the devices and apps must be user-friendly too.

Results of Research

The Consumer Technology Association (CTA) recently published a report “Assessing the Landscape for Digital Therapeutics.” Their findings show how much further this technology needs to come before our senior loved ones will reap the rewards of adoption.

The number of doctors who have “heard of” digital therapeutics, according to their survey is surprisingly low — with neurologists at 37% (example: pain control) and endocrinologists at 57% (example: diabetic monitoring). Those surveyed who are using some form of DTx is also relatively low – for neurologists it is 30% and endocrinologists 43%, but never used is 70% and 57% respectively.

They propose this definition of DTx in order to make it clear to consumers, healthcare providers, payers and industry insiders:

Digital therapeutics harness the power of technology to impact health by enhancing traditional medical practices, encouraging behavior change and, in some instances, serving as a direct, stand-alone therapy for a health condition.

Digital therapeutics are validated by clinical evidence to demonstrate an effect on health outcomes for specific treatment pathways, as well as primary and secondary disease prevention.

Making Digital Therapeutics a Reality

Experts agree that as the aging population gets more tech savvy using smartphones and apps, DTx will be more widely accepted by caregivers and seniors as a path to wellness as well as healthcare providers.

There is little question that digital therapeutics has tremendous potential to help family caregivers and their senior loved ones control and improve their health by putting them in the drivers’s seat.

The healthcare providers, payor entities, regulatory bodies, and manufacturers will need to facilitate how best to fully implement digital therapeutics to help seniors remain healthy using secure, effective applications.

We must overcome approval, reimbursement, and awareness for these systems and devices to benefit our senior loved ones.

Technology and the willingness to learn isn’t the obstacle anymore, as many thought in the recent past. Putting the necessary applications into the hands of caregivers and seniors and enabling providers to use it so that health can be managed is now in need of a push to make DTx a reality for more seniors.


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