Digital therapeutics: Critical elements for building effective patient support programs

By Lash Group

As healthcare moves beyond the pill, how can patient support services adapt?

Technology is typically framed as a quick and easy solution to a problem, but developers of digital therapeutics may find that patients still need support in order to take advantage of them. Digital therapeutics are evidence-based therapeutic interventions driven by high-quality software programs to prevent, manage, or treat a medical disorder or disease and used independently or in concert with medications, devices, or other therapies to optimize patient care and health outcomes. Today, they're used for various disease states, from alcohol dependency to irritable bowel syndrome.

Manufacturers of traditional medications are accustomed to working with patient support partners on programs to ensure products are affordable, accessible, and easy for the patient to adhere to. Meanwhile, digital therapeutic developers may be more accustomed to high-tech workflows and less familiar with market access barriers.

It takes time to develop and implement these new, innovative digital therapies. Implementing a patient support strategy that works for the patient and the product is essential in making sure patients get the most out of these therapies. Here are a few critical areas where developers and support partners can work together.

Provider and patient education
Employers and healthcare providers have been offering access to digital health interventions as a way to improve the health of their employees or patients. The problem is, while the innovation and technologies are great, the awareness of these options may be low.

At times, patients need education on what tools are available and how to access the necessary applications. In the past, this may have come in the form of a phone call, but with digital therapeutics, communication must keep pace with the product itself. Consider email or text to provide the patient a direct link to the product. This type of nudge can serve as a timely reminder to take full advantage of everything patients have at their disposal through their smartphone or computer.

“For many digital health interventions, patients can enroll and self-pay for the product without having to engage providers, support programs, or payers,” says Ashlee Burr, Director of New Business Development at Lash Group. “But when working with a provider, digital therapeutics companies will need to think through how to communicate enrollment options, patient support, reimbursement, and customer service solutions.”

Patients' questions may range from the clinical ("Does the product require a prescription? How can I get one?") to the technical ("How do I log in to the app?") or the financial ("How do I get the cost of this therapy covered by my employer or insurance provider?").
In any case, starting therapy can vary depending on how patients become aware of these products. Providing a support line for patients to call or message can make it easy to explain how to get started with a new digital therapeutic.

Coverage and reimbursement
“Payers are still beginning to cover digital therapeutics, albeit at a slow pace,” adds Alex Kilgore, Research Fellow at Xcenda. In many cases, an app or digital service is paid for through a contract between the developer and an employer or healthcare provider rather than the patient's insurance. When considering coverage and reimbursement for digital therapeutics, payers may cover products under the medical or pharmacy benefit, adding additional complexity to the patient journey.

For patients, it is important to make sure they understand product coverage and out-of-pocket costs. “The key is to help patients, providers, and payers navigate the reimbursement process in order to create as little friction as possible,” notes Burr. “Look to market access and patient support partners who have experience with novel products and payer strategy.”

Adherence and engagement
It's not uncommon for patients to lapse on a therapy, whether it's a medication, device, or digital therapy; however, when it comes to apps, there's the possibility of improving adherence directly through the therapy itself. Patient support partners can work with developers to understand when users need push notifications to remind them to engage with the application or take a specific action. It will be important to capture and interpret usage data to determine the appropriate length for a course of treatment for patients and where engagement improvements can be implemented. The resulting real-world evidence can be published to help payers and other stakeholders to advance coverage and reimbursement decisions.

Preparing for the future
Building patient support services to the uniqueness of digital therapeutics can help deliver on the promise of efficacy with fewer side effects. The future is bright for digital therapeutics as more of these therapies will help improve health outcomes for patients.