Arrival of digital therapies to support patients and doctors

New digital tools benefit both patients and health care professionals, helping improve the treatment of Parkinson's disease, for example. They may also help ease the challenges of rising health care costs for public spending.

Digital tools will soon be available to supplement medication for diabetes, Parkinson's disease, asthma and epilepsy, among others. These ‘digital therapies’ are either applications that are linked to medication or independent, clinically validated applications that collect data measured from a patient, and use this data to optimize the patient care.

With an app, the results of blood sugar tests carried out at home by a diabetes patient are automatically sent to health care professionals. They can then monitor the patient's condition and provide treatment recommendations. The app can also remind the patient to measure blood sugar after exercise and help calculate insulin doses.

“Digital tools can be used in health care alongside traditional medicines and patient-doctor relationships. For example, they can remind a patient to take their medication or help them monitor their own health more closely,” says Kati Kaijasilta, Director of Orion's CNS Business.

Orion is working on digital therapy research and development projects to treat asthma, Parkinson's disease and chronic pain.

“Our research project related to Parkinson’s disease is supported by the fact that we have extensive data material on the treatment of the disease spanning 30 years. We are currently still in the pilot phase of this project,” says Kaijasilta.

Data enables continuous monitoring

Continuous monitoring of many diseases would give doctors a much better picture of a patient's condition and would thus allow them to prescribe more appropriate treatment. The treatment of Parkinson's disease is a good example of this.

A neurologist currently sees a patient once or twice a year. This means that the doctor only sees the situation at that particular moment. If the patient had been under continuous monitoring, the doctor would have information on the state of their health over a long period. The doctor would be able to see this as an illustrative graphic and be able to prescribe the right treatment for the patient based on this.

It would also be possible to integrate the data collected from the patient into health care systems so that the system would alert for any abnormal values and the patient would be invited to see the doctor earlier than planned.

Fast and agile development

Developing digital therapies for the use of patients is a much faster process than the traditional drug development process that is expensive and takes years to complete. Another big difference compared with drug development is that digital therapies can be constantly improved. Their implementation does not require quite the same regulatory approval as medicines. 

"We can enter the market with a service that already provides patients with some benefits and further develop this service based on the data and feedback we receive."

Digital therapies that collect data and are linked to medication are a new and rapidly evolving product area. They are different from the hundreds of thousands of wellness apps on the market, such as sleep monitors or step and calorie counters on mobile phones, for example.

“We are just starting out in this market, and there aren’t clear business models yet, for example.”

There is already a wealth of services and applications and the number is growing all the time. In addition to the pharmaceutical industry, digital therapies are being produced by insurance companies, care service companies, numerous start up companies and in a way also digital giants such as Apple, Amazon, Google and Tencent.

More effective health care with digital therapies?

Digital therapies can make observations on the state of health of healthy people and anticipate risk of illness. In this way they may start revolutionising the incentive system in use in health care already in the near future.

Doctors currently receive a bonus based on patient visits. In the future, could these bonuses be based on the success of treatment or determined according to the health of the patients – in which case patients would not always have to come for an appointment?

“We should use the technology to target health care resources correctly. With digital therapies, we can reduce the number of unnecessary visits to doctors, which will allow health care professionals to focus on those patients who really need the care that can be provided during an actual visit to the doctor,” says Kaijasilta.

Text: Jukka Nortio

27 February, 2020