The various smart phone apps that are being developed to monitor or help manage diseases like diabetes or insomnia are now being referred generally as digital therapeutics (see: Can “Digital Therapeutics” Be as Good as Drugs?). This article provocatively asks the question whether some of these apps can ultimately substitute for drug therapy. Below is an excerpt from it:
The idea: software that can improve a person’s health as much as a drug can, but without the same cost and side-effects.....[D]efining exactly what a digital therapeutic actually is can be as elusive as finding the famous chalice....[The CEO of a startup] says digital therapies fall into two groups, which he calls “medication augmentation” and “medication replacement.” He says Sleepio is in the latter category because it actually makes sleeping pills unnecessary....The term digital therapeutics began to circulate around 2013, in large part due to Sean Duffy, CEO of Omada Health. He began using it at conferences and in the company’s marketing materials to describe its online coaching software to help pre-diabetics avoid getting sick by exercising more and losing weight.
About a dozen startups now call themselves digital therapeutics providers, and say they’re distinct from the rest of the digital health market of activity monitors, smart scales, and sleep trackers. To distinguish themselves from “wellness” gadgets, digital therapeutics companies tend to carry out clinical tests and sometimes seek regulatory approvals –one company, Welldoc, offers a prescription-only version of its BlueStar phone app for managing diabetes, which it terms the “first FDA-cleared mobile prescription therapy.” But unlike drugs, digital therapeutics don’t usually need approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, since often they promote lifestyle or dietary changes that are deemed to be low-risk. Whether a digital therapeutic involves a tracking sensor or coaching though an app, sothe biggest question is whether they provide a distinct, measureable medical benefit.
I don't know if the name digital therapeutics will stick but there is clearly something important going on here. As noted above, this is a generic term for the various types of health apps that will evolve over time into software with different functions. The most technically simple type of a health app available today, for example, is designed to achieve mental serenity through meditation. One of them is the well-reviewed Headspace. It is self-contained in the sense that it is used to coach users how to meditate. However, it can also import sleep data from one's Jawbone wearable or Apple Health program running on an iPhone if the goal of meditation is to improve one's sleep.
Much more complex are the health apps that analyze data generated and inputted from a separate device into an iPhone. One example is the Kardiamobile from AliveCore. The device itself has pads for two fingers from both hands to record normal heart rhythm or diagnose atrial fibrillation. Data is transmitted wirelessly to an iPhone for such analysis. It's possible to add a premium membership for Kardiamobile to upgrade to unlimited storage of EKG recordings plus customized monthly reports that can be mailed to the consumer's home to share with a cardiologist. We are only seeing the early and still relatively simple examples of digital therapeutics. There lots of money to be made here with new products hopefully offering the means for consumers to improve their health.