Medical Laboratories Find Opportunities as Digital Therapeutics Companies Leverage Mobile Applications for Treatment of Chronic Conditions
Digital Therapeutics combined with clinical laboratory oversight testing could help chronic disease patients avoid surgeries and expensive drug therapies
One area of technology that has fundamentally changed the healthcare industry involves mobile devices. But those early “wellness” tools have evolved. Today’s modern mobile health devices feature software applications (apps) designed to remotely treat chronic conditions by helping modify patient behavior, as well as monitoring drug intake and physical condition biomarkers. These devices are dubbed “Digital Therapeutics,” and they present opportunities for anatomic pathology groups and clinical laboratories.
For if mobile apps are going to be used to monitor patients’ adherence to therapy—including prescription drugs—there will be a need for clinical laboratory tests that work in harmony with these apps. Otherwise, how will providers and insurers know for certain patients’ biomarkers have improved or regressed?
Massive Investments in Digital Therapeutics Companies
Today’s digital therapeutics (AKA, software for drugs) can be tailor to specific treatments of chronic conditions, such as:
· diabetes mellitus;
· cardiovascular disease;
· hypertension; and,
· chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
Forbes states that the “future of healthcare will be app based.” That seem likely given the massive influx of capital being directed at the mobile healthcare industry.
The global digital therapeutics market is projected to grow to about $9 billion by 2025. That’s up from $1.7 billion last year, according to a report by Grand View Research. Driving the popularity of digital therapeutics are the benefits it affords patients, explained the report’s summary. They include:
· Continuous monitoring of vital signs;
· Medication management; and,
· Current healthcare reminders.
This is where pathologists and clinical laboratories come in. The medical laboratory can be the source for baseline blood tests before apps are used. And then, ongoing testing can determine if patients are taking drugs according to treatment guidelines and making the appropriate lifestyle changes.
Start-ups Raise Millions, Define Digital Therapeutics Space
One unique aspect of digital therapeutics is its ability to promote health improvements through behavioral changes alone. And millions are being invested in the concept.
For example, Virta Health Corp. raised $37 million in funding for an app that coaches diabetics on a diet to reverse their condition without drugs or surgery, according to MIT Technology Review.
“[Digital therapeutics] is still a fluid space that everyone is trying to categorize,” Peter Hames, co-founder and Chief Executive Officer of Big Health noted in the MIT Technology Review article. Among other programs, Big Health developed Sleepio, a sleep improvement program or insomnia app. Hames says most apps fall into two categories: “medication augmentation” or “medication replacement.”
Omada Health secured $127 million to conduct a clinical trial with Humana that investigates prediabetes, noted Forbes.
The study findings, which appeared in the Journal of Aging and Health, suggest that Omada Health’s digital behavior change program can help people to reduce chronic disease risk, noted a Humana news release.
The study involved Humana Medicare Advantage insurance members, who were enrolled in Omada Health’s Diabetes Prevention Program. The app enabled them to partake in online courses, use wireless scales, and tap other digital health tools as they worked to improve health and reduce risk of type 2 diabetes. Human coaches also were accessible.
“Few efforts have explored the feasibility and effectiveness of using technology to deliver diabetes prevention programs specifically for older adults,” the study researchers wrote.
According to the researchers:
· 501 people with average weight of 208 pounds participated;
· Hour-long lessons were made available and expected to be completed by smartphone, laptop, or tablet;
· Coaches monitored the information participants provided and their requests for counseling;
· 92% of participants completed at least nine of the 16 core online courses, which focused on topics such as changing food habits and increasing physical activities;
· People lost 7.5% of body weight after 12 months, or 13 to 14 lbs.;
· A subsample (69 individuals) who had lab tests performed improved glucose control as evidenced by a -0.14% reduction in glycosylated hemoglobin, and a decrease of -7.08 mg/dL in total cholesterol.
“These results support the clinical validity of the program with Medicare-eligible, at risk older adults. They are added evidence that chronic disease risk reduction is achievable through a variety of modalities, including digital-based programs with human coaching,” the researchers noted.
And because digital therapeutics amasses data that can be leveraged, Omada Health’s program acts as a “continuous learning system,” Sean Duffy, Omada Health’s co-founder and Chief Executive Officer, noted in Undark.
App Tracks People After Heart Attack
Johns Hopkins Medicine’s Corrie Health app is aimed at helping patients recover from heart attacks. A study at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center in Baltimore explored the effectiveness of app-enabled information and resources made available to patients early in the heart attack recovery process, according to Corrie Health’s Website.
Results from the clinical study of 50 patients show no one was readmitted to hospital in the first 30 days, Undark reported.
“We can actually enroll patients who are six or seven hours out of having a stent placed in the ICU. We’re giving [the Corrie Health app] to patients when they have the time to spend watching the videos and asking questions about their medications … We’re getting them to buy-in and learn the skills while they care the most,” Francoise Marvel, MD, an internist affiliated with Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center, told Undark.
A Role for Medical Laboratories
So, is there a role for medical laboratories where digital therapeutics are being used? We think so. Pathologists and lab leaders may even want to reach out to venture capitalists working on mobile apps that combine adherence to therapies with medical lab tests.
As our population ages and the shortage of physicians becomes more evident, digital therapeutics may be a smart way to address select patient needs in a quality and cost-effective manner.
—Donna Marie Pocius