Transforming healthcare through digital innovation

Diagnosis and treatment are increasingly delivered by innovative apps and devices as digitalisation and personalisation take centre stage in modern healthcare.

The COVID-19 pandemic has reshaped many aspects of the present, particularly the healthcare sector. As restrictions imposed by authorities during the pandemic limited the physical movement of patients seeking health-related resources, the adoption of digital healthcare began to proliferate. Apart from overcoming the limitations of time, location and accessibility, the digitalisation of healthcare is also ushering in a shift in the balance of responsibility between medical services provided by professionals and the actions patients take to improve their health and wellness.

Among digital-health tools available today, software and digital applications, hold great promise for common and complex diseases alike. Digital therapeutics (DTx), a subset of digital health, are evidence-based therapeutic interventions driven by high-quality software programmes, with the aim to help treat, manage or prevent various medical conditions including mental health issues.

Personalised, precise and prompt, DTx are differentiated from conventional wellness applications by how they improve the quality of treatments and clinical outcomes. As innovations in artificial-intelligence (AI) technologies increase, we explore some exciting DTx-based software technologies that could further transform how healthcare is delivered.

Diving into the mind

The most complex structure in the known universe lies right between our ears—the human brain. However, much of it remains shrouded in mystery. Composed of tens of billions of nerve cells, and over 100 trillion connections among them, the human brain is a hotbed of electrochemical activity that allows us to think, feel and interact with our environment. 

Integrated with portable, power-saving, Bluetooth-enabled electroencephalogram (EEG) wearables, an AI-based DTx platform developed in Singapore can tap into the mind to offer a window into a patient’s thoughts, emotion and attention. Six specially designed sensors packed into the EEG wearable are sensitive enough to detect brain signals. The AI-driven platform then translates them into an array of mental states, like focus and relaxation, providing valuable insights into the condition of the patient.

Harnessing these insights, third-party developers can formulate tailored solutions to address differing mental-health problems among a diverse patient base. For instance, the technology could be used to improve the attention span of ADHD children, help distract the brains of severely injured patients from acute bodily pain and promote relaxation for highly stressed individuals.


Training the mental muscle

Studies have shown that younger generations, compared to their predecessors, are at least a few times more prone to stress and anxiety. As these population groups will soon form much of the workforce to sustain the backbone of the global economy, it becomes paramount to help train their mental fitness and resilience.

Another Singapore-based technology can be applied in the form of a plug-and-play software that nudges the user to perform specific activities to encourage positivity and productivity. With a high level of personal detail, the AI-coach is trained around a contextual framework of emotions and behaviours, based on the science of wellbeing. Akin to a “weighing scale” of mental health, the DTx platform enables users to track and reflect on their mood and cognitive state, while providing them with curated care at precisely the right time.

Such technology can be practical in the workplace, where employees can engage in mental-fitness training activities that could further augment their work satisfaction and enhance communication skills. Furthermore, the AI-platform can also be incorporated into insurance and healthcare apps, granting users control over their own mental health, while giving insurance players cognisance of their clients’ emotional state.


Alternative stress-management solutions

Managing mental-health issues often requires the conscientious effort of patients to seek professional treatment from therapists or practitioners. However, the stigma surrounding the topic of mental health may be a significant factor stopping a patient from doing so, which usually results in the debilitation of the patient’s condition.

Alternative solutions, such as a mobile-based digital-psychotherapy application could offer patients another way to seek help, while tackling the shortage of health professionals. The clinically proven digital tool objectively measures certain physiological parameters like heart rate and heart-rate variability—effective digital biomarkers of stress—using a smartphone photoplethysmogram sensor placed on the cheek region. In addition, facial micro-expressions can also be detected and interpreted with a 30-second video selfie.

Users are then presented with various methods of stress management, including mindfulness-based meditation, music therapy, as well as bespoke content for specific users such as cancer survivors, new mothers, and brain-injury patients. With a populational level dataset enriched with digital biomarkers, the technology has proven to be effective at lowering a user’s stress levels by 30%, improving the quality of life of many.

Whether probing the mind for deeper insights, forming wellness-promoting habits or managing stress, DTx are bridging the divide between public health and healthcare, making access to effective healthcare a part of individuals’ daily lives.

IPI is organising a physical forum on Innovation in Digital Therapeutics on 7 July 2022. The event will see DTx start-ups, technologists, healthcare providers and medtech experts share their wealth of knowledge and experience in the realm of DTx. Experts will also discuss the trends, opportunities and challenges in the sector.

If you are interested to join us and network with speakers and participants in this forum, please indicate your interest here and we will contact you soon.