Chris Netherton, M.D.

How technology can deliver brilliant new therapies for patients

The term Digital Therapeutics only appeared in 2013. Now, many experts believe it will be a massive growth area for the future. It’s easy to see why.

At Microtest, we devote all our energy to creating IT solutions that will help Improve patient care. That is why the new field of Digital Therapeutics is of such interest to us. It uses modern technology to deliver therapy programmes to patients which they can use without needing the direct assistance of a medical professional. These can be employed to help treat chronic health conditions or to take preventative action with people who are at risk of developing them.

Digital Therapeutics uses a variety of digital implements to help manage, monitor, and prevent illnesses in at-risk patients. These include smartphones and other mobile devices, apps, sensors, desktop computers, and various ‘Internet of Things’ devices. Digital health technologies are used to spur change in patient behaviour. Is this the next Big Thing? The fast evolving market is currently worth $500m and predicted to grow to $6 billion over the next five years.

The digital health technology market is worth


Not only does this tap into the trend for patients to be more proactive in the management of their health, but it also has the potential to relieve some of the demand on medical services. So it could have enormous value in countries such as ours that have an ageing population and are therefore seeing a greater incidence of long term health conditions.

At least fifteen companies in North America are now active in this field, helping patients to manage conditions such as asthma, diabetes, hypertension and depression. Here in the UK, Microtest has been using its Guru patient record sharing system to help hospital doctors running diabetic clinics to have the very latest information at their fingertips. It is easy to see how this kind of innovation could one day be linked to Digital Therapeutics systems which patients can use at home to help manage their condition more effectively.

There are already digital therapy programmes for people requiring physical rehabilitation, such as stroke victims or patients recovering from surgery. Rather than a conventional set of exercises, a team of clinicians have devised a range of physical activities for patients to follow which have been translated into video games. They carry out a set of interesting challenges, like kicking a ball into a goal, skiing down a slope, and so on. Once the exercises are complete, the system instantly produces a progress report for the clinician, who can decide if any changes are needed to their rehab programme.

With Microtest’s expertise in electronic medical records, I can see how valuable it would be to have the latest data on the patient being constantly fed into their record. This could keep both parties informed of progress and automatically flag up any significant changes that required further investigation. It also means that there can be ongoing communication between doctor and patient, without the need for the patient to attend surgery for a consultation.

Digital Therapeutics like these can be a stand-alone treatment or can be employed to work in conjunction with other forms of treatment. For patients with hypertension, there are now apps available that will follow the guidance of their doctor and generate a personalised action plan for each day, detailing activities to be completed such as: take a pill first thing, eat more green vegetables, go for an evening walk, take your blood pressure reading, etc.

All this helps both patient and doctor to make progress. And the early signs are that the patients find this level of involvement both helpful and rewarding.

The work that we do at Microtest, creating interoperable software that allows secure and accurate sharing of patient data, is providing the vital infrastructure that will make it possible for innovations like these to reach their full potential. I believe that, in the future, more and more patients will be carrying out their own health monitoring at home, automatically feeding latest information into their clinician’s workflow, allowing their condition to be closely monitored and managed with the data also being fed directly into their patient record. This will remove some of the burden of routine monitoring that is currently done by GPs and practice staff. This kind of patient involvement will also help doctors to detect emerging health problems and take timely preventative action.

The results achieved so far in Digital Therapeutics, and in such a short space of time, have been impressive. That makes the outlook for the future even more exciting.