Posted on 03 Sep 2018
Genuine digital therapeutics are challenging misconceptions around digital health and improving quality of life for patients with long term inflammatory conditions.
Long term conditions are a global problem. They are responsible for 82% of deaths in the developing world and contribute to 75% of health budgets in the developed world despite affecting only 25% of the general population.
Historically, the management of these conditions has been patriarchal. Treatments are predominantly provided in the form of drugs and medicines, rather than taking into account social factors such as mental wellbeing or the impact of symptoms on a patient’s everyday life.
In recent years great strides have been made in harnessing the power of technology to help patients become more involved in managing their own conditions.
Over 300,000 health-related apps are currently available that purport to help improve wellness and build strength and fitness.
But this digital health revolution only tells part of the story.
The importance of clinical validation
Not all fitness trackers and meditation apps can be classed as bona fide digital therapeutics.
Only a tiny fraction of these devices are clinically validated and help drive behavioural change in the life of the patient. To achieve that distinction, developers must work alongside clinicians and medical professionals to provide solutions that have the endorsement of the wider healthcare community.
There is a growing body of evidence that supports the efficacy of digital interventions in the management of long-term conditions.
In the last few years, several digital therapeutic solutions have arrived that are genuinely revolutionising the lives of patients with debilitating illnesses.
MyCOPD – already prescribed by the NHS – has shown that simply improving patient knowledge on how to use inhalers can save the health service £600 per year PER PATIENT.
Sleep.io – a sleep quality app – has published clinical data proving that within three months of using their digital therapeutic, patients are getting a better night’s sleep than if they’d been seeing a sleep therapist or using sleeping pills.
Importantly, there is a growing acceptance among clinicians that these digital interventions not only deliver meaningful, long-lasting benefits for patients – they can also have a positive, measurable impact on the healthcare system itself.
Digital therapeutics are about moving the needle in science. They don’t just give you lifestyle tips, they connect you to your doctor. They help take self-management to the next level by allowing patients to take ownership of their conditions and, together with their clinicians, forge new pathways to improved health outcomes and better quality of life.
“We have found that when a patient is ‘activated’ and taking ownership of their programme of care, it plays an important part in controlling the physical symptoms of their condition. We’ve found that patients who are actively, digitally self-managing cost the NHS less.Our trial showed patients using self-management techniques required 47% fewer outpatient appointments than those who were not.” – Nader Alaghband, CEO + Founder, Ampersand Health
A collaborative approach
Ampersand Health is a social enterprise committed to developing the first scientifically-validated digital therapeutic for inflammatory conditions.
Our team is made up of leading clinicians from King’s College Hospital and the Royal London, as well as patient groups like Crohn’s and Colitis UK and subject matter experts on digital health and technical innovation.
Together we are looking to create a unique community for patients with inflammatory conditions (such as IBD and rheumatoid arthritis) and the healthcare professionals they are connected to.
By combining extensive patient research with clinical trial data, we have developed HealthSuite, a powerful self-management tool that allows patients to drive their own care programmes while staying connected to their clinicians and hospital teams digitally.
Because these types of inflammatory conditions are unpredictable and flare up irregularly, the usual model of scheduled check-ups is costly and inefficient.
Creating digital touchpoints between patient and care provider helps to reduce unnecessary outpatient appointments and lets clinicians focus on those people requiring immediate attention.
The importance of behaviour change
It has been widely established that patient behaviour and lifestyle factors can significantly affect the symptoms of inflammatory conditions.
Traditionally, clinicians and pharmaceutical companies have focussed almost entirely on medical interventions: “What can we give this patient to reduce the inflammation?”
Our approach has been more nuanced.
We have found that one of the biggest fears for patients is not medical at all. It is about the social debilitations that are part and parcel of life with a long-term inflammatory condition. The embarrassment and discomfort of uncontrolled symptoms or awkward questions from friends and colleagues.
These are mental health consequences that can lead to profound social isolation.
A self-managing patient can take back control by adopting a digitally-delivered behaviour change regimen, tailored to the alleviation of symptoms such as pain, fatigue and anxiety.
Healthsuite’s patient apps – My IBD Care and My Arthritis Care – use digital interventions to drive these changes. They are designed to address lifestyle factors that may be impacting a patient’s physical symptoms.
The apps use mindfulness, exercise and planning techniques to help improve stress levels, sleep quality, diet and fitness, allowing patients to feel more activated in their own programme of care.
Patients tell us that taking control of these non-medical elements is a vital part of staying positive and dealing with the psychological side of their conditions.
Using science to address the scepticism
The best way to win over digital sceptics is by providing compelling data demonstrating benefits to both patients and clinicians.
In our recent clinical trial, 85% of patients said they would now consider letting MyIBD Care replace their routine clinical contact.
Add to that the results from the pilot MyIBD Care scheme in the Gastroenterology departments at King’s College University Hospital and Barts Health which delivered significant efficiencies to clinicians and cost savings of more than £1 million in the first year alone.
Digital therapeutics are laying down a marker for the healthcare industry.
When a new solution is driven by social impact and committed to best practices, aligned with patient groups and clinically validated, it shows unequivocally the role technology can play in the holistic treatment of long-term conditions.