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Coronavirus crisis is causing rapid changes in health services with the priority being on strengthening health systems and reorganizing service delivery to respond to the pandemic. While the pandemic started a while ago, new needs continue to arise both from the perspective of the patient and the clinician and we need to make sure that no one is left behind. Previously, we have written how digital health has gained momentum and gave an overview of healthcare transformation potential. This article goes deeper into the potential of digital therapeutics, an important category in the digital health field.
Clearly, the coronavirus pandemic has sent shockwaves around the healthcare ecosystem and with this new sense of urgency, stakeholders are seeking solutions beyond maintaining core essential services across the continuum of care. With all the rapid changes happening, the thought process is changing as well. Remote care and video visits bacame the new normal very quickly, stakeholders saw not only the value but a change was also urgently needed. It is now widely accepted that video visits are highly beneficial for various reasons including promoting the distribution of clinicians in a way that it is allowing the patients to choose their clinician not only from their local experts but are free to choose beyond borders. This has made a world of a difference both for the clinicians and for the patients. But what else could be done? From that perspective, digital therapeutics have received increased interest. However, crucial questions must be answered to ensure that digital therapeutics can meet these new needs and deliver for patients. Before we can get there, we need to be mindful of the obstacles.
There are way too many digital health solutions available (which is a great thing if we look at the bigger picture) which is why it is very difficult for clinicians to comprehend the whole digital health landscape. Fortunately there are various health app reviewing organizations such as ORCHA that are helping the clinicians to make more informed decisions. It eases the first step: taking the leap of faith and trying digital tools. This allows us to have more open discussions on what’s working and what’s not working from the perspective of digital tools. We just need to always ask the right questions, the questions that are important to us. What are the characteristics of a digital tool that we find important? The bottom line is that there will not be one solution that will fit us all, we all have different preferences, needs and resources. But we first need to get to that level of discussion, it still appears to be the biggest obstacle in the deployment of digital tools in the healthcare setting. Even though everything is changing rapidly, we might not be there yet, the mindset of “let’s be safe and not use digital tools because we don’t exactly know what is happening” still might set us back.
Understandably, there are many other concerns in deploying digital tools especially since we should not leave anyone behind. Elderly population, struggling the most with chronic conditions, might find it very difficult to adapt to this digital approach. However, we at Triumf Health are focused on children, they are avid technology users and in need for solutions that would cater to their preferences. With that said, I don’t have answers to address this issue of the usage of digital health tools in the elderly population, however, I do not believe that this is a technology problem. Digital literacy skills are teachable, guided education is very much needed for eldery to become comfortable with using the tools. If they haven’t used their device for anything else than calling, they must be taught how to download an application and how to use various tools. With that said, I would argue that the deployment obstacle does not come from the patient side nor is a technology problem. When there were no other options available during the coronavirus pandemic, patients needed to turn to technology and we should not lose this opportunity to educate patients on more available opportunities.
One of the biggest obstacle in deploying digital tools is related to the fact that this field is still very unclear - to patients, clinicians and to the general public equally. If people don’t understand what digital therapeutics are, it is difficult to build trust around those tools. If there are no standards, then how to make decisions in the first place? Fortunately, a new initiative on digital therapeutics standards has just been announced. Hopefully, it brings further clarity to the whole field - this is now needed more than ever. The crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic has actually created an opportunity, we should not lose the momentum now.
I truly believe that technology helps us to bring care towards people in a very meaningful and personalized way. For that reason, I am picturing huge breakthroughs for companies in the digital therapeutics field in near future. I believe that the current situation allows products that fall under the digital therapeutics category to rapidly progress from the early adopter phase (few committed users) into the early majority phase (wide usage). This has been a major struggle previously but the door is now open. However, in order for us to achieve all this, we need to have an open mindset.