Are digital therapeutics and telehealth different names for the same thing? What’s the difference? In this article, we examine the intersection between telehealth, digital therapeutics, and patient care.

Whether you’re a payer, a patient, a business, or a caregiver, you’ve doubtlessly noticed how remote, tech-based healthcare has come forward in the last year. And you’ve probably also heard a number of unfamiliar terms related to long-distance healthcare: telehealth, telemedicine, digital health, mHealth, digital therapeutics.

These terms represent different things within the remote healthcare system, but knowing exactly what each one is and how it relates to the other terms can be confusing – particularly when it comes to digital therapeutics and telehealth, which are closely connected. In this article, we’ll detangle the terminology and show you where telehealth is heading.


Defining the New Era of Healthcare

First, let’s quickly sort out all the terminology:

  • Telehealth is long-distance, tech-enabled healthcare. It encompasses many things, from a doctor consultation over the phone (or Zoom) to sensors that remotely monitor patients. It includes services, devices, and products that are used in-office by healthcare providers and at home by patients.
  • Telemedicine is one facet of telehealth – specifically, the practice of medicine done remotely via technology. It can include anything from electronic health record sharing to remote diagnoses and treatment over the Internet.
  • Digital Health“refers to the use of information and communications technologies in medicine and other health professions to manage illnesses and health risks and to promote wellness. Digital health has a broad scope and includes the use of wearable devices, mobile health, telehealth, health information technology, and telemedicine.”(from Digital Health by Ronquillo et al.)
  • eHealth is the practice of supporting medical and healthcare decisions using mobile devices – tablets, smartphones, wearable tech,etc.
  • eHealth refers to medical or health services provided over the Internet.
  • Digital Therapeutics is a subset of digital health that uses software programs (e.g. mobile apps) to prevent, manage, or treat a wide variety of medical conditions. Digital therapeutic products have to be evidence-based and can be used with or without medication or additional treatments.

Based on the above definitions, we can say that digital health and telehealth are roughly synonymous and that digital therapeutics are part of the digital health/telehealth tool kit. We can also say that digital therapeutics and mHealth share some similarities but are not necessarily the same thing.

Now that we know how telehealth and digital therapeutics relate to each other and everything else in the digital health sector, let’s talk about how they work together to support positive patient outcomes.

How Digital Therapeutics and Telehealth Work Together

How can digital therapeutics complement telehealth? A major way is by getting patients aware of and involved in their treatment. For example:

  • Chronic back pain has started to limit Keith’s movement. He goes to his provider for help. The provider recommends Kaia Health, an app-based program that combines physical exercises, mental pain management techniques, and relaxation techniques.
  • Constant stress has taken a toll on Ana’s mental health, but she’d like to avoid taking anti-anxiety meds. Her doctor recommends Happify, an app that combines gamification with mindfulness, cognitive behavioral therapy, and other scientific techniques to help people improve their mental wellbeing.

In each case, the patient is using an app to improve their health. And they’re doing it from home – the very definition of telehealth. Such remote-first treatment methods are one of this decade’s key telehealth trends.

Digital Therapeutic Products and the Future of Telehealth

The future of telehealth is closely entwined with digital therapeutics. And current research suggests that remote, tech-based therapies are becoming an increasingly important way to deliver quality healthcare.

As we all learn more about digital therapeutic products and their possibilities, we can continue moving towards a more inclusive and patient-centric healthcare experience.

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