5/08/2021 | BlogPost
Two weeks ago, Healthware Labs launched the inaugural issue of Digital Health News Digest - a collection of the biggest digital health news over the last two months. Today we are taking a closer look at the trends behind this news with Gerry Chillè, Partner - Head of Digital Therapeutics at Healthware Group. In particular, we built the conversation around the mental and behavioral health, since they were the dominant in this edition of the Digest.
Gerry, how would you assess the current digital health landscape given the latest news?
Observing the news from the Digest, we can definitely find some important themes behind the latest happenings in digital health. Some companies like Teladoc, that launched one of the most complete integrated mental health services, are essentially utilizing their platform to connect patients to mental health providers like psychologists and therapists, whereas Woebot Health, which recently received a FDA Breakthrough Device Designation for its postpartum depression DTx, has created an entire platform and system that is self running, self-administered and gives people the possibility to interact directly with an AI trained “psychologist” via chat.
Then, we see Noom working on their digital health platform and behavior change around weight loss and diet and, of course Akili Interactive raising $160M for further development of their DTx for attention deficit disorder (in fact, slightly after the release of the Digest, Akili also announced adding new features to their DTx, EndavourRx video game). Finally, we also see a very interesting article about voice analysis with digital biomarkers that can help diagnose depression just by analyzing people’s speech patterns. In their entirety, the articles show that the digital mental health field is starting to take shape on several fronts with solutions on the diagnostic and therapeutic side of mental health, either as stand-alone services or optimizing people’s access to care.
These types of mental health support tools are critical, especially in the Covid and post-Covid times, because the incidence of mental health distress has become more and more prevalent across the world. A recent comprehensive review of the studies assessing depression levels caused by the pandemic, suggests that the pooled prevalence of depression in populations for the first half of 2020 is equal to 25% which is approximately 7 times higher than the 3% of population as found in 2017. Such surge of incidence of emotional distress has been driving demand for support services in mental health and the market has grown significantly since the start of the pandemic.
Almost a year ago as a part of a panel at Frontiers Health Global Conference we had a conversation with Alison Darcy, Founder and President at earlier mentioned Woebot Health (you can read the takeaways from this panel discussion in the Frontiers Health Booklet – editorial note). And we have seen that their company has grown a lot since then: $90M raised by Woebot Health in July 2021 is a very illustrative milestone. The same panel featured other notable digital menthal health companies such as Wysa, Silvercloud and Happify all of whom have had tremendous growth and investments in the last year.
One of the major problems that these solutions are addressing is filling the void created by the lack of therapists, psychologists and psychiatrists. And this is not to say that digital tools are going replace those therapists, but to point out that a large portion of people experiencing this distress can measurably benefit from a digital tool – and thus, help them go back to a more balanced state without needing further therapy.
I would add that there are two other segments of mental health that have become more and more visible: solutions focusing on helping children and corporate solutions created for the benefit of employees under new work-related stress. What would be your insights around these two areas?
Children’s mental health is becoming a critical topic because their social interaction has become limited by lockdowns and remote learning. Social interactions with peers are, however, especially critical to the emotional development of children or adolescents. One of the concerns here is that the pandemic itself has created a strong dependance on digital tools and gadgets, which have resulted in an even bigger social bubble around young people.
Hence, the question here is how do we integrate these tools in a proper way? How do we not only recommend when to use them, but also be able to identify and recommend when to definitely not to use them? This question will continue to be relevant even after the COVID-19 emergency is over, and will help form protocols of digital health that also look to provide a more balanced and empathetic approach to care.
If we look at mental health in the context of employees’ support, this has clearly become another important need. A year and a half of remote work has drastically changed the work-life balance of millions of people, blurring the lines between the both and creating situations that not everyone has embraced, especially parents of young kids. Employees’ mental wellness has a direct impact on productivity; therefore, companies are starting to recognize solid financial and organizational rationale behind mental health support of their employees. For example, a recent analysis by the US National Safety Council and NORC at University of Chicago shows US organizations that support mental health see a return of $4 for every dollar invested, and digital mental health tools can deliver this type of support at scale.
While not specifically geared for mental health, there is an important point I would like to make on the article about the IBEX AI powered diagnostic analytics to help oncologists accurately detect breast cancer. Suddenly finding oneself having to deal with a significant health condition invariably adds a mental health burden to dealing with that condition. Hence, digital mental health tools will find more and more applications across all therapeutic areas, and will help us move towards a reality of 360-degree holistic care approach to healthcare.
Being able to look at healthcare challenges at 360 degrees and connect the dots between various advancements in digital health and DTx is what we do best at Healthware Therapeutics. I hope that sharing some of our thinking through this and future articles will help our customers and partners make informed decisions on their own digital therapeutics’ strategies and products to pursue.