DTx Dev Diary: Creating Foundations

What is it like to build a new DTx app for cancer patients? In my first Dev Diary entry see what I have learnt so far, where we’re going and what are the challenges ahead.

Currently, DTx technologies as a digital health sector are in a tricky place. The potential is huge, which is no surprise to anyone who’s been observing the swift shift to digital healthcare whenever and wherever possible. For the last couple of years the major roadblock, however, has been the status of reimbursement and commercialisation pathways. Thankfully this is being dealt with, at least in selected countries such as Germany. Moreover, the pandemic has definitely highlighted the need for modern solutions and has propelled the entire digital health sector forward.

Having said this, doing DTx is still like sailing and exploring the new seas. Mainly because it’s all still a bit of an unknown. You can see the success stories cropping up but it’s still certainly the case that the whole sector is learning what works and what doesn’t. This also amplifies the importance of setting up the core fundamental assumptions we base the development on.

This fall is exciting for my team, because after months of hard work the mental health product for cancer patients will enter clinical trials. We’re all patiently awaiting for that to happen. After all, it will be the culmination of a long and demanding period of product development. Today let me share some key areas that are fundamental to our ongoing journey.

The importance of business development and market entry

I am a product guy so I always cheer for product development ;). But let me say this: the digital therapeutics market is one of those industries where the very close relationship between business and product development is particularly visible and crucial. 

As I mentioned earlier, in this sector we’re all still learning what works and what doesn’t. If you have a good product concept or even have only just started working on it, it is key that you start working on market entry and partnerships immediately. Even the best DTx product doesn’t have a chance of succeeding without a strong branch of business development. And I mean it. No chance. You will quickly notice that in order to make your product ready for the market, you will need to know this market in granular detail.

Content is king

I truly believe that business expertise aside of, content quality is an area where you can really gain the competitive advantage in DTx today.

In my previous project, when building a digital health product for children with autism, I used to say that each day we’re competing for the attention of our end user with the apps such as Angry Birds. And I wasn't joking. Healthcare apps also have to compete with the highly set bar of other most popular apps that provide the best digital experience. If you produce a DTx app, it is likely neither a mindfulness app nor an entertainment video game. But at the end of a day, the user will make a daily decision whether to spend time with one or the other. 

This is why it’s such a good lesson to all new DTx products, from the compliance point of view, that lifestyle apps are really good at delivering strong content. They may not be your direct competition. When you think about it from the user’s perspective though... we all want user's attention.

In order to build quality content in our project we’ve hired psycho-oncologists, imaginative artists, and experts in the video game industry. The last group being key in building user engagement.

Today our app contains video content of two full-length animated movies. Not recycled content - all unique animations. And we did it because we believe that a patient-centered medical app needs to be captivating. Interesting content is key. We didn’t want anything repetitive and boring.

The importance of data

The third key assumption is the reliance on the data.

Data is the oil of the 21st century. In the era of the information technology, there aren’t many more important things than utilising a product's data potential. For technologies like mental health apps, it is even more key as they can support patients in the environment that they spend the majority of their lives in. At home, at work, at uni, and on the go. 

For many years, mental health apps have supported pre-screening and screening for many mental health disorders, which have historically been associated with social stigma. This is why the mental health DTxs have enormous potential to bring some useful knowledge which can shed the light on patient’s behaviour, improve their wellbeing, help with compliance and, last but certainly not least, even save lives.

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