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Prescription Digital Therapeutics Emerge as Health Care’s Newest Frontier

Health care technology today is advancing as rapidly as any Silicon Valley startup.  

Therapies and treatment approaches are not only emerging faster than ever, but many – like prescription digital therapeutics – are changing the way people use health care. These innovations present an opportunity to integrate new technologies to enhance patients’ existing plans of care. 

How Digital Therapeutics Work 

Prescription digital therapeutics are software programs that physicians prescribe as a form of treatment. They can help patients manage serious conditions ranging from opioid addiction to asthma to sleep disorders.  

Prescription digital therapeutics can, for example, deliver cognitive behavioral therapy – brain training – to a patient with chronic insomnia, or help patients with diabetes track their food choices and glucose levels. Programs to treat other chronic diseases like congestive heart failure, dementia and Alzheimer’s are in development. All activity occurs via a phone or laptop app. 

The software captures patients’ information about symptoms or progress that can then be shared or remotely accessed by their providers. The technology has been found to help patients adhere to their treatment plans. 

Taken together, these benefits could expand access, improve health outcomes and lower costs to the health care system. It’s unclear, however, whether insurance coverage will support access to prescription digital therapeutics. 

The Uncertain Road Ahead 

During COVID-19 shutdowns, health care providers, especially mental health professionals, pivoted to virtual visits. Prescription digital therapeutics augmented traditional treatment approaches, increasing patient access to safe and effective care when they otherwise may have gone without. 

Yet commercial insurance coverage is inconsistent. And at the federal level, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has yet to embrace the technology. Legislation was introduced, but not taken up, last Congress to make prescription digital therapeutics universally available to all Medicare and Medicaid patients.  

Today, prescription digital therapeutics represent a novel complement to traditional treatments. But technologies like these have the potential to become more and more a part of traditional care. First, however, policy on coverage and access must become more defined and more comprehensive. 

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