Digital Therapeutics in Mental Health: The Promises and the Pitfalls

May 22, 2023 11:44:00 AM

Digital Therapeutics in Mental Health Blog Creative

As healthcare progresses towards digitization, patients increasingly take control of their treatment decisions. To meet the needs of these empowered patients, the healthcare industry is turning to digital health solutions. Digital health refers to the use of technology to improve the delivery of healthcare, and one important subset of this field is digital therapeutics (DTx).

What is Digital Therapeutics? 

Digital therapeutics (DTx) refers to the use of digital technologies, such as mobile devices, software applications, and wearables, to treat and manage medical conditions. DTx can either be used as a standalone therapy or complement traditional medical treatments. 

These digital interventions are designed to improve patient outcomes, reduce healthcare costs, and enhance the overall quality of care. They are evidence-based, clinically validated, and often regulated by healthcare authorities. DTx has emerged as a rapidly growing field in healthcare, with potential applications across a wide range of medical conditions.

 

With advances in healthcare consumerization, digital therapeutics solutions have demonstrated significant benefits in the management of chronic, complex, and challenging diseases, especially related to mental health. This may include digital interventions to manage problems related to psychiatry, addiction, neurology, chronic insomnia, etc. 

How does Digital Therapeutics Work? 

Digital Therapeutics (DTx) is a category of health applications that focus on medical treatment through changes in patient behavior and remote patient monitoring. For example, by encouraging the patient to adopt a lifestyle, or diet, or adhere to medication. 

But, how is DTx different from digital health or digital medicine apps? 

Digital Health

Digital Medicine

Digital Therapeutics

Digital health is an umbrella term given to different technologies aiming to improve patient care and clinical operations. 

Digital medicine is a subset of digital health that deals with technology to measure or intervene in health conditions and has evidence to support it. 

Digital Therapeutics is a subset of digital medicine that deals with the treatment, management, and prevention of health conditions. 

Benefits


  • Improves communication with care providers.
  • Help in personalized treatments and healthcare decisions.
  • Make providers & services accessible to people.
  • Enable health data sharing & lower care costs. 

Benefits


  • Improved treatment plans with personalization.
  • Includes recovery, treatment, disease prevention, and health promotion.
  • Enhanced patient engagement, satisfaction, and treatment adherence.
     
  • Streamlined communication between providers, reduced administrative burden, remote consultations, etc. 

Benefits


  • Focuses on making interventions for informed treatment decisions.
  • DTx is accessible anytime, anywhere, making it a convenient healthcare option.
  • Generate a large amount of data and insights for informed decision-making.
  • Cost-effective than traditional therapies. 

Clinical evidence


Not required.

Clinical evidence


A must-have. 

Clinical evidence


A must-have along with real-world outcomes. 

Examples:

  • Telehealth platforms
  • Fitness trackers
  • Meditation & mindfulness apps
  • Medication adherence apps
  • Exercise & diet apps

Examples:

  • Wearable sensors
  • Smart medications 
  • Pills with camera built-in 
  • AI to detect cancer
  • Insulin pens to track insulin levels

Examples


  • An app that helps people overcome depression, negative thoughts, etc. 

  • An app that helps manage Type 1, Type 2 diabetes 

 

DigitalThera

Source: Grandview

The Promise of Digital Therapeutics in Mental Health

Digital Therapeutics has a transformative role in improving mental health care. It offers progressive solutions to address the challenges and limitations of traditional interventions. Some of the benefits that it brings include: 

Accessibility: Digital therapeutics offers the advantage of accessibility to mental care. People can receive support from the comfort of their homes, without showing up for F2F appointments. This is helpful, specifically for individuals who live in remote or underserved areas, or those having mobility issues. 

Personalization: One of the more significant benefits of DTx is its ability to have personalized interventions to cater to the specific needs of an individual. This ensures that the interventions are efficient and relevant to an individual’s circumstances, which leads to improved outcomes. 

Engagement: Digital therapeutics enable patients to engage in their own care by offering them tools & resources for self-management of mental health conditions. There are several apps out there that help in doing so including cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) apps, mindfulness & meditation apps, symptoms tracking apps, etc. 

Real-Time Insights: Digital therapeutics in mental health provide supportive insights to mental health professionals. These insights, comprising primarily of real-time patient data, help to keep a tap on patient symptoms, treatment, medication adherence, etc. This ultimately helps in informed clinical-decision making and ensures that the treatment plans are adjusted accordingly. 

Cost-Effectiveness: DTx is cost-effective compared to traditional therapies for mental care. With digital advancement and consumerization, both patients & physicians have been able to significantly reduce the health care cost and access to mental health care. 

Digital Therapeutics offers promising opportunities to improve mental care by increasing the accessibility, personalization, engagement, and cost-effectiveness of interventions. However, it is crucial to ensure that DTx technologies are grounded in evidence-based practices, adhere to safety standards, and are effective for diverse populations. Additionally, ethical considerations such as data privacy and equitable access should be prioritized to ensure that these digital therapies are used in a responsible and inclusive manner.

From Stigma to Empowerment: The Role of DTx in Mental Health Care

Digital Therapeutics (DTx) helps the healthcare ecosystem deal with the stigma associated with mental health treatment. People who experience mental health challenges generally avoid seeking professional help due to the fear of being stigmatized, which leads to delays in treatment. 

DTx provides a private means of accessing mental health support, in the comfort of homes, without having the need to disclose their struggles to anyone. Such practices normalize the experience of seeking help, thereby ensuring on-time consultation & treatment for a problem. 

 

Global Digital Thera - Juniper Research

Source: Juniper Research

The Pitfalls of Digital Therapeutics in Mental Health

Adoption Barriers

Despite offering significant benefits, DTx therapies are yet to enter mainstream healthcare. The two prime barriers to adoption for DTx include 

  • The inability to distinguish DTx from general well-being apps

There are 55,000 healthcare apps in the play store. For consumers as well as medical professionals, it is tough to separate unproven or low-value applications from those with proven therapeutic value. 

  • Proof of clinical outcome improvements with DTx applications

Digital therapies demand changes in healthcare provider workflows. This eventually increases physicians’ burden (with data and personalized treatment plans). 

Along with the providers, the payers (health insurance market) have limitations in adopting digital therapy treatment. The payers would prefer to offer reimbursement for digital therapies upon achieving better clinical outcomes within a time frame

Limitations

Digital therapeutics (DTx) can be a valuable addition to mental health treatment. However, relying solely on these interventions may come with potential risks and downsides. Here are some examples:

Lack of human connection: DTx can provide convenient and accessible interventions, but they may lack the human connection that is often essential for effective mental health treatment. This can be especially challenging for individuals who have experienced trauma or have difficulty building trust relationships.

Limited personalization: DTx interventions are often designed to be scalable and accessible to the masses. This can come at the expense of personalization. Individuals have unique mental health needs that may require tailored interventions and the one-size-fits-all approach of DTx apps cannot provide that. 

Lack of evidence-based interventions: DTx interventions have shown promising results in small-scale studies.  However, there is still a lack of rigorous and long-term evidence to support their effectiveness and safety. This can make it difficult for clinicians and patients to make informed decisions about which interventions to use.

Dependence on technology: DTX apps for mental health care are dependent on technology that is prone to glitches, malfunctions, or technical issues. This may lead to compromised interventions. Moreover, individuals who rely on DTx therapies may become overly dependent on technology and may struggle to cope without it.

Ethical Considerations in Digital Therapeutics for Mental Health

DTx for mental health needs ethical considerations to ensure that individuals receive safe, effective, and equitable treatment. When using digital therapeutics, it’s important to take care of factors such as data privacy, informed consent, algorithmic bias, evidence-based practice, etc. 

SUCCESS STORY: Building a digital therapeutics app for a US-based health tech firm 

It is important to recognize that DTx is not a substitute for all mental health treatment modalities and should be used in conjunction with physician consultations. It is also important to monitor the potential risks and downsides of relying solely on DTx and to address them in order to ensure that individuals receive safe, effective, and personalized mental health treatment. To empower your healthcare services with robust digital enablement, you can book a free consultation with Daffodil Software today.

Topics: Healthcare

Archna Oberoi

Written by Archna Oberoi

Content strategist by profession and blogger by passion, Archna is avid about updating herself with the freshest dose of technology and sharing them with the readers. Stay tuned here as she brings some trending stories from the tech-territory of mobile and web.