Much breathless hype has attended the promised advent of “digiceuticals,” or digital health tools and services, over the past few years, along with plenty of venture capital. So where exactly are all these wonders?
Despite substantial investment from both the tech and life sciences sectors, there’s been no mHealth unicorn stampede. Even some of the more ballyhooed digital solutions have struggled for traction (think of Proteus’ smart pill, or Welldoc’s BlueStar prescription digital assistant). The most important factor? Not questions over safety and efficacy so much as over who will pay.
So when CVS Health, the 900-ton pharmacy/PBM giant, announced plans last month to establish a kind of App Store for digiceutical reimbursement, with Sleepio maker Big Health as a foundational partner, ears perked up in the digital health investment world (which has seemed a bit sluggish of late, as though logy from a two-year bender). CVS’s Vendor Benefit Management service will “help PBM clients more easily contract, implement and manage their choice of available and emerging third-party health and wellness benefit solutions – both digital and non-digital.” In short, CVS will vouch for products, leverage its bulk to win members discounts on them, and draw on its ocean of data to validate their efficacy.
“Plan sponsors have begun looking beyond the standard medical, pharmacy, dental and vision benefit offerings, and are increasingly considering supplemental benefits to help improve health outcomes and reduce overall medical spend,” said CVS’ PBM chief Derica Rice in a statement. “We asked our clients what they needed and are now proudly easing their administrative burden so their members can more quickly and easily access these solutions that are growing in availability and importance.”
So at last, we have a mechanism for reimbursing these solutions. But is there actually any demand for them? And should pharmas be investing in and partnering on these tools and services? As it happens, we’ve been probing these questions in our patient, physician and payer research. Here’s a few key insights:
- There’s substantial patient interest in digital therapeutics. 31% of U.S. patients use or are interested in using digital therapeutics to manage a condition, with 9% already using these tools and services and another 22% interested in doing so.
- There’s even greater interest in digital therapeutics from pharma. 26% of U.S. patients are interested in using pharma-provided apps to manage a condition, and 8% report having done so already. Nearly a quarter (23%) say they would be likely to use a voice app from pharma.
- Patients will use digital health tools if they produce demonstrable health benefits and come at a discount. We asked U.S. patients what would motivate them to use a wearable device or app to track or manage their condition. 27% said they’d do so if they could physically notice a difference in their health as a result, and 31% said they’d use them if provided a financial incentive, such as a gift card or health insurance discount.
- Physicians are the key to getting them in patients’ hands. Asked what would motivate them to register for online patient support programs from pharma, 19% said financial assistance for their medications, and 23% said a doctor recommendation. Physicians are the Number One driver of awareness of patient support programs from pharma, cited by 31% of patients asked how they learned about these resources. So far, only 4% of U.S. physicians have prescribed a patient-focused medication app, probably reflecting the paucity of prescription apps on the market -- but 44% are interested in prescribing these tools.
As the reimbursement puzzle piece begins to fall into place, it may be time to take another look at the burgeoning field of digital health tools. We believe there’s great potential in partnership with tech firms around these tools, both as a means of differentiating products and adding value for patients, physicians and payers alike. The demand is there, and the technologies are advancing rapidly. However, in order to get them in the hands of patients and benefiting patient health, companies will need to sell physicians on these tools. Fortunately, that’s a job that pharma commercial teams have some experience in.
Want to know more about attitudes and behaviors regarding these tools within a specific patient audience or physician specialty? Contact us.