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Digital Therapeutics

Our smartphone is going to play an increasing role in our wellbeing and healthcare. Image credit: AiSDeT

If you split the total cost of healthcare based on what is ensuring your health you’ll discover something interesting:

  • 20% is attributable to medical cure, including visits, exams, prescriptions
  • 20-30% relates to your lifestyle, what you eat, drink, exercise, smoke (not smoke), positive attitude,…
  • the remaining 50%+ is related to environment, social, genetic, psychological

This splitting was proposed by the World Health Organisation -WHO- and you can find an in depth analyses of the various factors contributing to health, around the world, in their paper “The Global Burden of Diseases“.

According to an interview to Bozidar Jovicevic, head of Digital Therapeutics at Sanofi, 80% of healthcare cost sustained in the US (on an expense of 3.4T$, 20% of the US GDP) is related to ailments that could have been prevented or greatly diminished (modified and even reversed) through adoption of a different behaviour (better diet, more physical exercise…).

If you think about these figures it is simply staggering. Investing in ways to make people aware of the impact of their behaviour on their healthcare could be a great cost saving AND, most importantly, a much more effective way to improve people’s wellbeing, Notice that just making people aware is not a guarantee that proper action will follow. I guess that, at least in developed Countries everybody is aware that smoking and health don’t go hand in hand, yet there are still plenty of people smoking, that being overweight is a recipe for disaster, that over drinking of alcool is damaging your liver…. and so on. Yet people seem to prefer a sure immediate gratification in spite of a long term (likely) problem.

Also, one should consider that the advice towards better life style is counterbalanced by the ads from companies that have a business in non-healthy lifestyle: tobacco companies have invested one million $ per HOUR in 2019 to push their tobacco wares. Cigarettes sales have been decreased in the US over the past 40 years, yet in 2017 (latest data I was able to find on th CDC website) the number of cigarettes sold was still 249 billion!

Digital Therapeutics is a relatively new branch of healthcare aiming at informing, monitoring and helping people to adopt an healthy behaviour that is not a set of general guidelines, rather a very specific and timely prompts to action (or non-action, like stop eating…).

This is not just good for people’s health, it is also a blooming, and booming, new business. Just last week I run into an article listing the 61 top digital therapeutics start ups. It makes for an interesting reading since each of them is focussing on a specific ailment and ways to contain and even reverse it without drugs or other types of medical intervention.

Actually, digital therapeutics is not a substitute for medical consultation (visits, exams, … ) nor medical cure (drugs, surgery…): it aims at flanking medical intervention as well as providing data to improve medical intervention.

The smartphone is playing a growing role in digital therapeutics, as well as data analytics and artificial intelligence. The smartphone is seen as both a:

  • data accrual (with data partly generated internally through its sensors and partly gathered from wearables and ambient sensors)
  • data storage, keeping the history of the owner
  • data processing, performing analytics and using AI to extract meaning, identify patterns
  • gateway to exchange local data and receive info from global data through a trusted service provider
  • awareness interface, providing advice to the owner
  • personal digital twin

Pharma is looking at Digital Therapeutics as a further source of revenues in a business that promises to be a multi-billion dollar market.

About Roberto Saracco

Roberto Saracco fell in love with technology and its implications long time ago. His background is in math and computer science. Until April 2017 he led the EIT Digital Italian Node and then was head of the Industrial Doctoral School of EIT Digital up to September 2018. Previously, up to December 2011 he was the Director of the Telecom Italia Future Centre in Venice, looking at the interplay of technology evolution, economics and society. At the turn of the century he led a World Bank-Infodev project to stimulate entrepreneurship in Latin America. He is a senior member of IEEE where he leads the Industry Advisory Board within the Future Directions Committee and co-chairs the Digital Reality Initiative. He teaches a Master course on Technology Forecasting and Market impact at the University of Trento. He has published over 100 papers in journals and magazines and 14 books.