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Advancing digital therapeutics for mental health 2022


The demand for mental health services has increased since the COVID-19 pandemic. An estimated 1.6 million people are awaiting treatment in the UK alone, while another eight million who do not qualify for NHS aid are facing day-to-day challenges.

Increasingly, Digital Therapeutics (DTx) is being considered as an alternative to fill gaps in health care provision. They have the potential to be woven into the patient journey, empowering patients either while waiting for therapy, post-discharge, or co-mingling with therapy.

Liz Ashl-Payne, founding CEO of the Organization for the Review of Care and Health Apps (ORCHA), is a strong believer in the power of these digital devices, which will be discussed in detail next month at HIMSS22 Europe. Consumer research by Orcha found that young people and women with children at home particularly appreciated the flexibility and discretion DTX offers.

“DTX has enormous potential to address the uneven way of seeking mental health support. They provide a confidential, affordable, and convenient route to support,” says Ashal-Payne.

Yet in ORCHA’s assessment of the 614 DTx, half of the apps tested fell below the quality threshold. How can we ensure that available medical drugs are safe, secure and effective?

“The public has a right to be concerned about data security and clinical effectiveness,” admits Ashl-Payne. “The first step any organization can take is to actively guide the public to secure digital health, assessed against quality standards.”

She says it’s important to involve health professionals in the evaluation process.

“When a digital health recommendation comes in from a health care professional, higher take-up rates are seen and research has shown it is 100 times more likely to be satisfied with an app,” she explains.

WORKING WITH ORCHA NHS in the UKAs well as to establish libraries of DTx for mental health support in Canada and Holland.

“The technology has to be safe and healthcare workers must be able to recommend these devices and prescribe them to patients in need. In short, there should be an infrastructure similar to what we already have for medicines,” concludes Asl-Payne.

cutting red tape

During the pandemic, startups rose to the challenge of providing digital tools, as demand for mental health services soared and lockdowns restricted access to in-person support services.

The myriad innovative solutions on offer include Doctor Based Virtual Care SessionsMental health platforms, and meditation and sleep-support apps working to connect communities.

“Startups have been key catalysts in the digital mental health revolution,” says Laura Brock, health project officer for Allied for Startups (AFS), the global umbrella of startup associations. “Startups have grabbed onto this unprecedented opportunity to offer quick, innovative and flexible solutions to people around the world.”

runs AFS DTX ProjectWhich brings together over 45 digital health entrepreneurs, policy makers and other health care stakeholders to support innovation in Europe.

“The availability of digital solutions on mobile phones or laptops contributes to the democratization of healthcare and is one step closer to universal access to care,” says Brock.

However, startups often have limited resources to decode the bureaucracy around topics such as reimbursement plans, access to health data, or interoperability standards.

According to Brock, entrepreneurs need to be empowered with the right tools if mental health innovations are to be successfully delivered to market. She sees the harmonization of the health tech policy ecosystem across Europe as an important step in overcoming barriers for entrepreneurs.

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