Over the last few years, digital therapeutics, which use software programs like video games to treat medical conditions, have gone from largely hypothetical to US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) cleared treatments. The sector has experienced an explosion of interest and research as tech, pharma and medtech firms realise its potential.
With the imminent adoption of next-generation technologies like augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), artificial intelligence (AI), Cloud computing and 5G, digital therapeutics will become more sophisticated and accessible. Medical device manufacturers will need to explore ways to combine their hardware with upcoming therapeutic software to avoid being left behind.
The budding field of digital therapeutics uses software programs such as video games as primary methods of delivering evidence-based treatments for various medical disorders. Research within this field has grown significantly over the last few years, with researchers exploring the use of digital therapeutics in treating mental disorders such as depression, schizophrenia and dementia as well as cardiovascular diseases addictions and more.
For example, the FDA recently approved EndeavorRx, a video game available on iOS that has been shown to improve objective attention in children with attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD). In the game, the player is tasked with steering a vehicle through a course while collecting a specific item and ignoring others. Many digital therapeutics being researched also involve aspects of behavioural training or modification.
Next-generation technologies will allow such treatments to become more intricate, sophisticated and accessible. AR and VR will allow increased patient immersion into the digital world, potentially amplifying the effects of treatment. AI may allow the software to better adapt to specific patients as it analyses usage data, tailoring the experience so that treatment is more effective.
Cloud computing and 5G allow digital treatments to be more graphically advanced and feature-rich, as processing can be done in the cloud and sent to a variety of devices without requiring an expensive video game console or high-end PC. They would also allow patients to access treatments more easily as healthcare systems move to a more decentralised system during Covid-19.
The development and commercialisation of digital therapeutics will be a collaborative effort between multiple sectors, including tech, pharma, medical devices, researchers and potentially video games and digital art. As treatments are approved for a broader range of indications, digital therapeutics are poised to become a popular treatment option for patients and a fast-growing market for firms and investors.
Medical device manufacturers will need to cultivate partnerships for developing such treatments that require specific products or accessories they manufacture, such as specialised sensors or controllers, while keeping devices affordable, in order to get into the market.