Digital Therapeutics to treat diseases

Let’s start by saying that digital therapeutics has nothing to do with “Dr. Google” to whom we turn as soon as we feel a weird pain (and we refuse to call our GP), ending up imagining who will be present at our funeral after its (mostly) fatal diagnosis. It’s not about health app either, nor it is a tracking method.

They are real therapies belonging to the field of digital health, i.e. the series of digital technologies used in the health sector. The World Health Organization uses the term digital health as a synonym for ehealth, and refers to it as “a broad umbrella term encompassing eHealth as well as developing areas such as the use of advanced computing sciences (in the fields of “big data”, genomics and artificial intelligence, for example)”.

Digital Therapeutics (often abbreviated to DTx) are developed on the basis of RCTs, they are authorized by regulatory authorities, they are prescribed by the doctor and they can be reimbursed by public health services in the countries where it is possible, such as in England and, from January 2020, also Germany.

The first question that comes to our mind is: what disease can be treated with digital therapeutics? 

They are used in several medical areas: from chronic diseases such as diabetes and hypertension to mental illnesses such as anxiety and depression. In addition, they are also used in rehabilitation and to fight against some addictions, such as smoking. These therapies can come in the form of an app to be used on your smartphone, a video game to be used with a console, or a sensor connected, for example, to an inhaler for breathing medication.

The “active principle” of digital therapeutics is the algorithm that regulates them, which is what ultimately changes patients’ behavior. Their main feature is that of interacting with the patient, something not to be disregarded since several clinical studies have confirmed its effectiveness. 

One of the first digital therapeutics was made in 2009. It is called Deprexis and it is used to treat depression. It is an online platform created by the German company Gaia Group AG that, through cognitive-behavioral techniques, helps patients to deal with crises. It is available in nine languages and it has had so much success that it is now used in hospitals in Germany and Switzerland.

Blue Star Diabetes is instead an app useful to diabetic patients. It is a digital assistant that provides a customized guide. In addition to keeping track of your eating habits and lifestyle, it provides a series of suggestions with recipes, food plans, advice on physical activities and much more. It also connects with other medical devices and platforms. Thanks to it, it is possible to significantly reduce blood glucose levels.

Recently, another therapy has been approved. It is a videogame that can be prescribed by the doctor, coand it comes with a leaflet. Its name is Endeavor and it is used for the treatment of ADHD disorders, i.e. Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. The recommended dose is 25 minutes a day for 5 days a week. The treatment lasts 4 weeks.

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