Digital Health Corner Editor: Parisa Vatanka, PharmD, CTTS
You might know some colleagues that are infectious disease pharmacists, critical care pharmacists, nuclear pharmacists, oncology pharmacists, the list goes on – you might even identify as one of these yourself! But what if I introduced myself to you as “John Little, digital therapeutics pharmacist” – what would that mean to you? What comes to mind? How do digital therapeutics relate to pharmacy and what exactly are digital therapeutics anyway? The Digital Therapeutics Alliance defines Digital Therapeutics as evidence-based therapeutic interventions that are driven by high-quality software programs to prevent, manage, or treat a medical disorder or disease.1 This definition distinguishes digital therapeutics from other digital health apps/products because of the requirements for strong evidence supporting its medical use, direct interventions on the disease/disorder, and the high-quality software crucial for the intervention. While there is a plethora of health apps and digital products available today, an estimated 350,0002, the vast majority would not hold up to the high standards to which digital therapeutics are held. True digital therapeutics are valuable to the patient and their health care team and are beginning to be covered by health insurers, and for these reasons are a viable treatment modality worthy of pharmacists’ attention. So digital therapeutics sound great as a new way to help patients receive high-quality care through software, but how does this relate to pharmacy? In plenty of ways! Think about what we as pharmacists already do to optimize medication therapy following the Pharmacist Patient Care Process3: collect, assess, plan, implement, follow-up. Now, apply this patient care process through a digital therapeutics lens instead of a traditional pill-lens.
- Collect: Does the patient’s lifestyle lend itself well to a digital therapeutic? What is their level of digital literacy?
- Assess: What digital therapeutic options address this patient’s disease/disorder? Would any of these options go well alongside their pharmacotherapy? Are there other comorbidities or considerations that would favor one product over another? Are there relevant financial considerations?
- Plan: Discuss the digital therapeutic options with the patient; and with their input, suggest the most appropriate product. Also, discuss how the digital therapeutic can assist in self-management of their care.
- Implement: Assist the patient with the onboarding, set-up, and initial training on proper use. What could all this new data mean to them? What frequency of alerts are they comfortable with? What questions or concerns do they have with this new type of therapy? Provide appropriate education about the product and its nuances.
- Follow-up: How has the digital therapy been working for the patient? What are the pros and cons they have noticed with their digital therapeutic? Discuss the data that is being received, the plan for ongoing monitoring, and next steps in the care process.
As you can see, the pharmacist’s role in digital therapeutics doesn’t have to be as foreign as it might sound initially. Pharmacists are very adaptable healthcare professionals, capable of overcoming the challenges that come along with learning about and integrating new treatment modalities. Although a Digital Therapeutics Specialization could be a reality in the future, any pharmacist can begin seeking opportunities to learn more about effectively integrating these software-based treatments into their practice today. As pharmacists become familiar with more and more digital therapeutic products, comfort with recommendation and use will increase. For that reason, it’s important that pharmacists begin familiarizing themselves with digital therapeutics sooner rather than later, and eventually there will be digital therapeutics pharmacists all around!
- Digital Therapeutics Alliance. Digital Therapeutics Definition and Core Principles. November 2019. Available: https://dtxalliance.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/DTA_DTx-Definition-and-Core-Principles.pdf (Accessed 2021 July 22)
- The IQVIA Institute Report. Digital Health Trends 2021. Innovation, evidence, regulation, and adoption. July 22, 2021. Available: https://www.iqvia.com/Insights/The-IQVIA-Institute/Reports/Digital-Health-Trends-2021?utm_source=linkedin&utm_campaign=&utm_medium=spredfast&utm_content=sf147861552&sf147861552=1 (Accessed 2021 July 23)
- Joint Commission of Pharmacy Practitioners. The Pharmacists’ Patient Care Process. May 29, 2014. Available: https://jcpp.net/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/PatientCareProcess-with-supporting-organizations.pdf (Accessed 2021 July 22)
John Little is a pharmacist who works for the American Pharmacists Association (APhA) Foundation, as the Research & Innovation Project Management Specialist. John’s work with the APhA Foundation includes conducting innovative research projects that demonstrate how pharmacists can improve healthcare outcomes at both the local, community level as well as nationwide. John graduated with a PharmD from the University of Oklahoma College of Pharmacy in 2020 where his team won 1st place at the National Community Pharmacy Association (NCPA) student business plan competition. John’s interest in digital health began many years ago as a curious observer and has continued to evolve as he is now directly involved in several digital health initiatives. John is especially passionate about digital therapeutics and is focused on building pharmacist awareness about this rapidly emerging field.