Joe Kvedar: Trim healthcare costs with digital therapeutics

Digital therapeutics have the potential to treat chronic conditions as effectively as certain pharmaceutical counterparts – and employers that deploy such programs can help fight the trend of rising healthcare costs by doing so.

Joseph Kvedar
Joseph Kvedar

Joseph Kvedar and Alexander Fogel write in a Harvard Business Review article that consumer-grade platforms such as mobile devices, wearable sensors and artificial intelligence technologies delivered via web browsers or apps can help employers combat costly chronic diseases. 

For example, a study examining the National Diabetes Prevention Program showed that mobile apps engaged patients interactively, leading to “transformative weight loss.” Diabetes affects 9.5 percent of the U.S. population, while another 32 percent are at risk of developing diabetes. A diabetic employee is associated with $4,500 in costs due to lost productivity and medical costs.

RELATED: Mobile support for diabetes program leads to 'transformative' weight loss

Another area where digital therapeutics could take hold is to help people quit smoking. The app SmartQuit, for example, has shown to be two to three more effective in helping people quit than unaided smoking cessation attempts, the article notes. Other studies have shown that text message reminders can help individuals abstain from smoking.

RELATED: Use of texting interventions raises odds of smoking abstinence

In another example, the smartphone app MediSafe sends patients reminders to take their prescriptions on time and also displays a virtual pillbox showing a picture of the shape and size of the patient’s pills. Users show significantly greater medication adherence rates across a range of chronic conditions when using it, according to Kvedar and Fogel.

By setting company goals, determining how those goals will be measured, and then hosting a list of providers for employees to access these digital therapies, companies should then look to their return on investment before making final decisions. Indeed, the authors say to be wary of providers who choose soft top-level metrics like engagement instead of financial ROI.