As digital therapeutics (DTx) increasingly permeate the healthcare space, tech start-ups and pharma companies alike espouse hopeful narratives of cutting-edge solutions and enhanced adherence.

However, much of the buzz hailing the novelty and revolutionary aspects of the DTx trend misses the mark; curiously, conversations around physician adoption and digital access neglect to focus on the complex nature of healthcare delivery and the patient experience. DTx will fail to move the needle if they are designed and launched in the same siloed way much of healthcare has been to date.

We all would like to ensure the successful implementation of DTx to enhance healthcare. Based on our experience in  understanding human behavior with DTx, that begins by understanding the needs of both health-care providers (HCPs) and patients. Here are three considerations to ensure your product is set up for success.  

Move Beyond..

1. ...The Disease to the Person.

The traditional approach to healthcare is disease-centered, whereby HCPs focus on adherence to medication to lower biological markers. On the other hand, patients and caregivers are most concerned with how their condition impacts their relationships, roles, and quality of life. By centering the patient as a person, we shift the problem to ask: how can the treatment adhere to the patient's needs? Via business anthropology and an emotionality approach, we dig deeper beyond what patients and HCPs say to uncover how they feel and why they behave the way they do, so that we may effectively communicate and impact behavior.

A person's culture shapes perceptions of what it means to be sick and how it ties to their identity. A DTx app with constant notifications may be perceived by a patient as an incessant reminder they are sick, which may not go over well to motivate engagement, especially for adolescents who may perceive themselves as healthy in the USA, for example. For a successful product launch, values and motivations must be translated into tangible experiences, which may be positioned as empowerment, taking control, and proactive self-improvement in the individualistic American context.  

Let's not forget about HCPs, as they are cultural beings driven by values just the same. Healthcare decisions are emotional decisions, delicate balancing acts navigating risk, cost, hope, behavior and identity. It is crucial to understand HCPs’ fears of relinquishing control, trust in new technologies and the willingness to take risks. HCPs are not immune to these emotionally laden aspects, and the cultural meanings ascribed to these factors vary across the world. Uncovering these nuanced insights will inform how you strategically position your product launch to be tailored to different locales to increase adoption, rather than a homogenous global launch that may fall flat.

2. ...The Individual to Their Context.

A people-centered approach to healthcare entails a holistic, ecosystemic view of all stakeholders involved. Patients do not go through life as solitary individuals. Their caregivers, parents and other support systems play a crucial role in encouraging them to see their doctor and complying with their treatment regimen. Thus, narrowly focusing on the 'end-user' without intentional design and messaging for other stakeholders is a recipe for repeating the mistakes of failed interventions in the past.  

A DTx targeting children without understanding how their parents and teachers regulate screentime throughout the day would miss a crucial piece of the puzzle. Also, patients and caregivers may already use innovative workarounds to adhere to treatment, including solutions which may be analogue rather than digital. How can DTx be complementary and integrative with people's broader life routines? Furthermore, effective treatment must move beyond questions of digital access to considerations of diversity, equity and inclusion. Does your DTx take health literacy, numeracy, age, disability, and culture into account?  

Healthcare is about cultivating human connections to foster complex problem-solving of underlying unmet needs. DTx are not a magic bullet solution; they cannot replace the human connection foundational to assessment and delivery but must rather serve as a tool to enhance it. Messaging during product launch must reflect this element.  

3. ...Ignorance to Integration.

In an embryonic DTx market with virtually no awareness, expecting HCPs and patients to leap from tried-and-true methods to trust in unknown tech is a tall order. Positioning your DTx properly via targeted messaging is key to activating different cohorts in awareness campaigns. However, only measuring the pulse from key opinion leaders (KOLs) who are not fully immersed in clinical work will miss the beat; instead, a deep dive into the entire ecosystem of stakeholders and the patient journey is needed to uncover the full picture. An ecosystemic view will assist you in understanding how to move from awareness to action by leveraging the interactions and deep motivators of behavior of all players involved.  

Beyond the need for providing satisfactory clinical trial data, seek to understand what features of DTx are most compelling to the needs of HCPs and patients. What would factors such as reduced treatment time, less side effects, enhanced adherence tracking, increased security, or less stigma mean for each stakeholder? In which contexts are they positive or negative features? The answers to these questions pave the way for precise product positioning, and ultimately, airtight integration.  

DTx must be designed and launched with these human-centric considerations in mind to be successful. Move beyond the taken-for-granted assumptions of what drives stakeholder behaviors and what underlies their needs. Uncovering these insights and strategizing solutions drives us at our core. When you are ready, reach out to us to help position your company to deliver a truly revolutionary, human-centric future, where 'digital healthcare' is so integral, it becomes known as 'healthcare'.