A new report from management firm McKinsey has shone a light on how digital therapeutics (DTx), combining AI, patient data and behavioral science can help patients sustain and improve their health through strategies, such as gamification. Sidekick contributed to the report, and The Sidebar has gathered some of the highlights below.
McKinsey’s report signs up to the school of thought that encouraging healthier behavior in working-age people has a beneficial effect later on in life, improving health outcomes by reducing the incidence of chronic diseases.
The report identified digital therapeutics as one of ten high-impact technologies that show promise in improving quality of life of patients and slowing ageing.
In Prioritising health: a prescription for prosperity the consultants say focusing on these early interventions could make “65 the new 55” for many people.
McKinsey’s report quantified the potential to reduce the disease burden through ill health and premature mortality with a systematic review of the 52 most problematic diseases.
These were identified using the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IMHE), including the top ten causes of the disease burden in each global region.
For each of the diseases, McKinsey reviewed the scientific literature, including clinical trial, meta-analyses, systematic reviews, and clinical guidelines to identify interventions with the greatest potential to reduce disease burden.
Each intervention was categorized as environmental, behavioral, prevention, health promotion or therapeutic, and evidence of efficacy was summarized for each.
According to the report there could also be immense all-round benefits to society, just using interventions that already exist today.
The global disease burden could be reduced by around 40% over the next two decades and 70% of gains could be achieved from prevention by creating cleaner and safer environments, backed with a commitment to move to prevention both within healthcare systems and beyond.
By expanding the labor force and increasing productivity, McKinsey estimated that the health benefits could be worth $12 trillion in additional annual global GDP in 2040, an 8% uplift to GDP without including additional benefits from future innovations and welfare gains.
The report identifies the diseases that are proving the most difficult to tackle – with mental health disorders showing the highest potential for improvement.
Other tough-to-treat diseases listed by McKinsey include self-harm and interpersonal violence, musculoskeletal disorders, substance use disorders, and neurological disorders.
Improving global health would also improve the resilience of societies and economies when they face unexpected health shocks such as pandemics.
Preventative care will need digital tools
Digital tools are going to play an important role if healthcare is to be shifted towards prevention as McKinsey envisages.
According to McKinsey digital monitoring is already improving adherence to treatment for people with tuberculosis, which requires a strict multi-drug regimen over many months and sometimes years.
Interactive text messages, electronic medication monitoring, and video observed treatment are all aiding the fight against this potentially deadly infectious disease.
But it’s digital therapeutics that McKinsey identified as one of ten categories of medical innovation that could help to reduce the total disease burden by 6%-10% by 2040.
Adding AI to digital therapeutics
Combining digital health and behavioral economics can engage people and encourage them to make decisions that contribute to health, in areas such as weight loss and medicines adherence.
The report notes that digital therapeutics can provide therapeutic evidence-based interventions using software tailored to a “broad spectrum” of physical, mental and behavioral conditions.
Powered by artificial intelligence (AI), they can use patient data and behavioral science to help patients not only to adopt, but to sustain healthy behaviors through gamification and other forms of engagement.
Digital technology could also help in other areas of the drug development process and the report acknowledges that the other technologies identified could overlap.
Use of data and AI could increase productivity of clinical trials and enhance drug discovery, according to the report.
AI is replacing traditional reductionist approaches, which worked by targeting individual parts.
The technology is better at understanding biological complexity, developing more holistic disease models that could lead to more specific interventions that can be produced at scale.
After this, any treatments could be further enhanced when AI is used to improve treatment design by creating personalized and targeted treatment approaches for people. This could involve self-care tools and connected and cognitive devices.
Driving healthcare’s digital transformation
While the pandemic is tragically still costing lives, McKinsey argues that it has demonstrated that healthcare systems are able to quickly shift over to using digital technology if required.
It cited the example of the UK government which asked all primary care providers to shift to digital and phone-based appointments wherever possible to reduce risk of exposure to the virus.
The national health regulator fast-tracked assurance of video products and 11 suppliers were selected to provide services to support them.
Within a few weeks, doctors in England were seeing only about 7% of patients face-to-face compared with 80% the previous year, with all patients being triaged before an appointment compared with 40% the previous year.
Digital health technology has proved itself during the challenging times of the pandemic. As the world gradually emerges from the darkness of the COVID-19 outbreak, there could be a brighter future as technology encourages people to lead happier, healthier lives.