From Analog to Digital: Transforming Healthcare Delivery
In recent years, artificial intelligence (AI) has become increasingly common in healthcare, particularly in digital therapeutics. The AI in the healthcare market is forecasted to experience significant growth over the next five years and is expected to grow from USD 14.6 Billion in 2023 to USD 102.7 billion by 2028, with a CAGR of 47.6%. This indicates a robust and rapidly expanding market with many opportunities for businesses and investors in the healthcare industry. The main drivers of healthcare innovation and adoption post-pandemic include:
- Growing aging global population
- Increasing prevalence of chronic illnesses
- Evolving consumer behavior
- Shortage of clinicians
- Physician burnout
- Rising demand of primary care delivery
What is Digital Therapeutics?
Digital therapeutics, or DTx, is an emerging field of healthcare technology that combines digital elements with clinically proven therapeutics to improve and enhance patient care. DTx solutions can range from patient-facing digital programs and applications to targeted drug delivery systems. By leveraging evidence-based digital interventions, healthcare providers can monitor patient progress more efficiently and provide more tailored treatments. DTx solutions are becoming increasingly popular due to their effectiveness and affordability. Studies have suggested that digital therapeutics can be more cost-effective and have fewer side effects than standard treatments. They are used to treat or manage a variety of conditions, including chronic pain, depression, allergies, anxiety, and sleep disorders.
Artificial intelligence and digital therapeutics
There is a growing interest in utilising AI in digital therapeutics to provide an even more personalised approach to treatment. AI-driven therapeutics can use patient data to identify potential risks and develop treatment plans that better meet their specific needs. Studies have shown that AI can improve the accuracy of diagnoses by more than 40% compared to traditional methods. In a study conducted at Stanford University, AI algorithms were trained to diagnose skin cancers and outperformed human dermatologists in terms of accuracy. Another study showed that AI algorithms used in cardiology could accurately diagnose heart disease with a similar accuracy rate to that of experienced cardiologists. With the increasing popularity of digital therapeutics, AI-driven solutions will only continue to become more prevalent and beneficial for healthcare providers and patients alike. According to reports, heavy investments are being made in advanced AI technologies that are more accurate and interpretable, making DTx solutions more intuitive and valuable for both patients and physicians. Several are being integrated with wearables and are also developing or expanding their pathways to help DTx pick up more signals. Healthcare providers see a lot of potential of DTx being used in primary care. Big data advocates are also showing an increasing interest in sophisticated AI models and hope they can leverage data to improve the therapeutic effects of DTx while ensuring safe and transparent practices. AI not only helps personalise the treatments but helps analyse patient challenges and needs based on their behaviour. AI-powered DTx interventions are gaining popularity in neuroscience for the screening and early detection of Alzheimers, dementia and cognitive impairment. Substance use disorders is another area in which DTx solutions are helping recovering addicts in their rehabilitation journey with real time prompts, alerts and encouragement.
Challenges and ethical concerns of using AI
Integrating AI into digital therapeutics, and healthcare in general raises numerous ethical concerns, from data privacy to unequal access to accountability. To ensure optimal safety and efficacy, the following points should be addressed:
- Informed consent to use data
- Safety and transparency
- Algorithmic bias
- Data privacy and ownership
It is important for policy-makers to proactively tackle these concerns. With the use of AI and its association with large volumes of patient data, the demand for accountable, equitable, and transparent AI design and governance is rising.
Associate Professor (Digital Health) and AI advisor to Inflamed, Sonika Tyagi says, “Digital health is benefitting from advanced applications of ML and AI. However, adoption of AI in healthcare settings still faces several challenges. The challenges range from technical ones related to AI algorithms and data biases to complexity of the healthcare systems themselves.” While the hype around AI is a fast-moving one, it will mature over time. “The change is not possible overnight and is gradual.” says Sonika. “Greater awareness is needed for potential biases in data and algorithms, need of ethical frameworks around sensitive data sharing and regulation of AI such that the greater part of society can benefit from equitably.”
Data Privacy – The Potential for Misuse
AI in digital therapeutics generates vast amounts of personal health data. Ensuring the privacy of this data is crucial to prevent potential abuse and ensure patients feel comfortable using these tools. For example, AI algorithms could be used to manipulate patient behaviour or to target vulnerable populations. A study by the World Health Organization found that AI algorithms were more likely to target people with low health literacy. The study also found that AI algorithms could influence patient behaviour and decision-making.
The Need for Transparency and Regulation
As AI algorithms become increasingly complex, it can be challenging to determine who is responsible for errors or adverse outcomes. Therefore, the issue of accountability in digital therapeutics powered by AI requires careful consideration and clear guidelines. Given these ethical concerns, it is crucial to ensure that the use of AI in digital therapeutics is transparent and regulated. The use of AI threatens accountability for any sort of damage done. The extent of potential harm is unknown, and the use of machines will limit our ability to take ownership of the decision-making process and consequent outcome.
Mobile health apps facilitate personalised digital therapeutic interventions that track, monitor and record trends and keep individuals engaged throughout their day. While regular health and wellness apps are great, DTx solutions are clinician-guided and evidence-based in terms of design, development and user interface to enhance the patient experience.
Digital therapeutic apps may be prescribed or recommended by your care provider in combination with other prescription medications. Other DTx interventions may enable patients to track and monitor their symptoms.
InflaMed, for example, helps individuals identify, track and monitor their chronic inflammation symptoms and share the results with their care providers for shared decision-making. Such interventions enable a holistic and personalised approach to self-management, proactive care and improved health outcomes.