The Medullan team attended the 4th annual DTx West Conference, held virtually this year on February 23-25, 2021. This year’s focus was digital therapeutics and how the industry can “accelerate digital therapeutics into the hands of patients.” In a 4 part series, our team recorded critical takeaways from select sessions of the conference.
Part 1: How are Digital Therapeutics Going to Change the Healthcare Industry Globally?
On Day 2, three global digital leaders (Dr. Gottfried Ludewig, German Federal Ministry of Health; Megan Coder, Executive Director, Digital Therapeutics Alliance; Kabir Nath, Chief Executive Officer, Otsuka North America Pharmaceutical) discussed how digital therapeutics have the potential to change healthcare across the world during the “How are Digital Therapeutics Going to Change the Healthcare Industry Globally?” keynote session.
The discussion was broad and far-reaching and touched upon current digital trends (including COVID impact), challenges across global regions in commercializing digital health, lessons learned from DTx experience, reimbursement landscape globally, and digital effects on providers and the more extensive care teams.
Key highlights for me were:
COVID has been a massive accelerator for Digital Health
While the pandemic has brought to light a lot of issues in the healthcare system, such as access to care services, healthcare inequities, and interoperability challenges, there were many encouraging and positive results for digital health. Regulatory bodies have sped up approvals due to COVID; many of these regulations may remain post-COVID as well, such as the changes allowing for more than 80 additional services to be furnished via telehealth and for providers to bill for telehealth visits at the same rate as in-person visits.
COVID has advanced adoption and engagement with digital solutions for patients. The recent Rock Health Digital Health Consumer Report noted that from 2019 to 2020, adoption rates grew significantly—10+ percentage point increases—across live video telemedicine, wearable ownership, and digital health metric tracking.
Provider recognition and adoption of digital health have progressed and with COVID accelerating many areas of digital health, providers have been able to experience the value firsthand.
“Digital health is more about enlarging the toolbox for the physicians, providing the proper tools”- Jan Hensmann, Head of Unit for e-health Intelligence for the German Ministry of Health
DTx, tech and pharma can learn from each other
The tech world takes pride in moving quickly and iteratively, embracing the ethos of “move fast and break things” coined by Facebook. While digital innovation evolves through a faster, more agile process than the traditional, linear pharmaceutical drug research and development, DTx companies can learn from Pharma about how to more rigorously measure the effectiveness and efficacy of DTx interventions in controlled studies and real-world settings.
On the other hand, Pharma can learn from tech how to develop digital products, unlocking possibilities for data-driven insights in improving and developing new therapies, both digital and non-digital. The panelists noted learning from other industries that are more experienced in developing digital products and solutions, such as the technology industry.
Partnerships will be critical in the development of digital solutions for healthcare companies.
“To be successful in DTx, it is going to require cross-industry collaborations (healthcare, tech, pharma); joining forces to learn new habits together”- Kabir Nath, CEO at Otsuka North America Pharmaceuticals
Streamlined regulatory and reimbursement pathways are needed to support the DTx scale
The panel noted that cross-country regulatory and commercial strategies are challenging for digital health due to the varying regulatory requirements at national, local, state, and regional levels.
According to panelist Megan Coder, Executive Director of the Digital Therapeutic Alliance, “It is not a portable system- very country-specific, minimal consistencies across geographies. Interesting to see leadership evolve and who will be next in progressing this growing industry as far as regulatory and reimbursement… and …we do need some consistency across national boundaries and regulatory restrictions for this to scale and continue to advance.”
She, along with the other expert panelists, agreed that this would remain a priority focus area, and we will see this “comprehensive approach flourish in the coming years.”
The “How are Digital Therapeutics Going to Change the Healthcare Industry Globally?” keynote session brought various global perspectives on the digital therapeutics market. While we have seen unprecedented growth and adoption of digital health technologies due to COVID, there is a lot of learning remaining. Learnings from other industries via partnerships and collaborations could be a productive path forward. Simultaneously, a more streamlined regulatory and reimbursement approach will be necessary for DTx to scale to its potential.