AD is characterized by both chronic symptoms and acute flare-ups, and to date, no known singular cause for the disease has been identified. However, increasing evidence shows that common environmental factors, such as fragrances, food or weather can ‘trigger’ flares, making AD a difficult disease to manage.
Although there are a number of available pharmacologic treatment options for AD, the efficacy and safety profile of these therapeutics are not always favorable, particularly as current treatments of AD are based predominantly on long-term immunosuppressive methods. Additionally, these therapeutics are often focused solely on suppressing skin symptoms, without addressing the additional health repercussions such as stress. As such, there remains an unmet need for safe, sustainable, and holistic treatment pathways for patients with AD.
Digital therapeutics (DTx) are well positioned to meet the challenges of AD treatment and management: by acting as an extension and enhancement to standard AD treatment, DTx solutions can support an AD care plan through remote patient monitoring, counseling and education, and patient self-management.
Current Atopic Dermatitis Treatment Challenges
For patients and healthcare professionals (HCPs), the chronic nature of AD can give rise to several barriers to effective treatment:
- Poor Access
Where primary HCPs aren’t always confident in managing complex AD cases, accessing a dermatology specialist can be challenging. Trends have shown access to a certified dermatologist is largely dependent on geographic location, with the distribution of the profession centered around urban areas and academic universities.
- Limited Time and Resources
In healthcare systems which are busier and more expensive than ever, patients often feel they do not have enough time to discuss all aspects of their treatment with their HCP. In turn, HCPs feel frustrated that consults may only last a few minutes and the scope of what they can offer in that time is limited to organizing the medication prescription.
Many patients are also reluctant to even take up these prescriptions due to a lack of understanding of the potential side effects, not to mention the fear of costs not being covered by their insurer: patients aren’t even beginning treatment when they need it most.
- Insufficient Support for Comorbidities
Atopic Dermatitis affects more than the skin. Research shows that there is a significant association between AD and immune-mediated comorbidities (e.g. inflammatory bowel disease or asthma) and with several mental health comorbidities (e.g. attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety, and depression). Treating HCPs are often aware of these associations and the variability between individuals but usually don’t have the time or knowledge to fully support their patients with them.
HCPs need additional support themselves to provide the right information and guidance for their patients in order to alleviate the burden for patients with AD.
- Waning Treatment Adherence
Several factors have been found to contribute to patient commitment to treatment: physicians using a ‘trial and error’ step model resulting in prolonged periods of uncontrolled symptoms before an adequate treatment is found, suboptimal communication with their HCP and multitudes of unaddressed symptoms can all lead patients to wane in their treatment adherence. Patients who have more intermittent care may have poorer outcomes and AD can be hard to get under control again.
Where do DTx Fill the Gaps?
When AD patients don’t have access to integrated care, symptoms go untreated and quality of life diminishes, so it is critical to find ways of closing the treatment gaps for patients. DTx can play a pivotal role in addressing these gaps in several ways.