The emergence of digital therapeutics
For the last couple of years we have seen a rapid development within tele-health, where information and communication technologies (like computers and mobile devices) have been used by patients to access health care services remotely. Now we are seeing digital tools taking over even more areas of healthcare. Past years we have seen examples of doctors starting to prescribe video games and virtual reality (VR) to treat conditions such as brain fog, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder. In the US the company XRHealth’s is offering its users a platform which provides the patient with an immersive experience (by utilising Extended Reality (XR) technology, a combination of virtual and augmented reality), transporting them to a virtual world for comprehensive therapeutic care. Earlier this year they raised $10M in funding to expand virtual healthcare treatment in the Metaverse.
XRHealth is one example of an actor within the emerging field referred to as Digital Therapeutics (DTx). DTx are evidence-based therapeutic interventions driven by software to prevent, manage, or treat a medical disorder or disease. Another example can be found in Sweetch, a behavioural science company that leverage AI and EI (emotional intelligence) in order to offer their digital therapeutics solutions. Sweetch has developed a proprietary engine called JITAI (just-in-time adaptive intervention) for people with chronic conditions which converts data points from a user’s various connected devices into fully automated, hyper-personalized recommendations. DTx is very often focused on patients with chronic diseases and here they have found a very particular user problem to solve. Research conducted by the FDA shows that 30–50% of chronic disease treatment failures are caused by patient non-adherence. This is due to a lack of motivation from patients to stick to their health plans, as well as to remember their treatments throughout an already busy day. Why the use of human psychology, behavioural science and artificial intelligence can be combined in DTx, to understand what makes every individual tick, and to motivate adherence to the health plans.
A similar case can be found in the BOOST Thyroid app. Developed by the biomedical researcher Vedrana Högqvist Tabor, the app lets patients with Hashimoto’s (a progressive, lifelong autoimmune disease), track symptoms on an intensity scale, log lab tests and medication adherence. At the same time the app provide the patients physicians with an overview of the data they input. Tabor now aims to increase the role of artificial intelligence in the service, as this would allow for the app to be even smarter as it will develop knowledge about the condition based on the thousands of anonymised data points it collects. But this also makes it into a data privacy question, and this specific challenge is currently taking center stage in another part of healthcare services that are using AI; period trackers. The discussions that are currently being raised is concerning the privacy of the period tracker user data. Some privacy experts are worried that in a world in which Roe v. Wade is overturned, where abortion laws become stricter, period tracking apps could be forced to hand over users ovulation information, as the data could then be used as evidence against people who choose to terminate their pregnancies. Hence experts recommend fertility- and menstrual-tracking apps to switch to encrypted technologies, and business models in which no user data is collected or sold.
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