Digital therapeutics industry is gaining steam, but usability questions still loom


The digital therapeutics industry, encompassing prescription software that aim to treat specific conditions, is continuing to expand. Investors and healthcare stakeholders are beginning to take notice. In December, Pear Therapeutics became one of the first digital therapeutics companies to go public. 

However, there are still many questions around the usability and scalability of these products. Unlike traditional prescription drugs, users need to onboard digitally and often need personal technology products to do so. Digital therapeutics often have multiple end users, which means designing for different populations.

“I was lucky enough to be part of some early pilot studies with digital therapeutics products and was able to sit with clinicians, sit with patients and watch them use early versions of our product,” David Zuckerman, digital health partnerships lead with Takeda, said during a HealthTech Build panel moderated by MobiHealthNews.

“The importance of fitting into the [healthcare provider] workflow cannot be overstated. We had shown our HCPs our dashboard that had charts and graphs, and were color-coded. [It] really gave them a view into what the patient was doing on their mobile phone in real-time. 

“But sitting with these clinicians, you really understand that they do not have a lot of time in between patients. They didn’t have the time to go see the dashboards we built, and asked for a much simplified and sort of scaled-down ‘show me what I need to know’ product.” 

Sometimes less is more, according to Karen Donoghue, interaction architect and principal of HumanLogic. Patients, providers and IT professionals are often overwhelmed with incoming data. She pitched the “peace of mind” use case, where users are only contacted when something needs to be done.

“Sometimes it’s [contrary] to the way product teams think. They think more data means more stuff on the screen and users’ eyes on the screen. That may not be the best success metric. The success metric is perhaps the peace of mind for the user or even for the end user,” Donoghue said. 

Benjamin D’hont, head of strategic marketing for Voluntis, said that initially there was a lot of discussion around giving notifications to patients whenever new information becomes available or was needed. However, that paradigm has shifted to put patients in control of inputs.

“If you really want to empower the patient, then it’s the patient who decides most of the time when there is a need to report information or not,” D’hont said. 

Not all patients are going through the same journey, Donoghue said. 

“I was designing a PTSD platform, [where] users themselves are under stress, and they are not your typical users, who are perhaps more calm.”

Onboarding doctors is another challenge in the digital therapeutics space. Overall physician awareness about digital therapeutics is still lacking. 

“Doctors do not necessarily know that these things exist,” D’hont said. 

Zuckerman said that technical issues such as EHR integration and fitting into the workflow also pose challenges. 

“The doctor’s journey has itself a point where they have to discover the product because someone has told them about it or it’s been referred to them, and then they have to go through their own assessment,” Donoghue said. “They have a buyer persona, so they’re making a buy, no-buy decision, or are part of a team making a buy, no-buy decision. Maybe setting that up and doing that is too technical.”

Whether the end user is a patient, provider or IT specialist, understanding their journey is key.

“I had to assess a product where users – doctors – had to be able to tap a screen. But they were wearing gloves, so that is an example that you need to think through that journey, and the conditions and the environment the user is in when they are using the product,” Donoghue said.





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