Smartphones and wearable devices are increasingly being used to monitor patients and collect useful data on various health conditions.
It was no great leap, then, for Pear Therapeutics to push for digitizing of addiction treatment. The startup’s app, “Reset”, is available for download by anyone, but requires a “prescription” code to access the therapy modules inside. Users have to renew their prescription every 90 days.
Opening Pandora’s Box?
There is already a long list of so-called “medical apps” that promote things like relaxation techniques, but Pear’s app is among the first to be FDA-approved, putting it into a different class than those 99-cent downloads. Several have argued that this app is nothing special, since it was modeled off an existing piece of desktop software, but the very fact that someone struggling with addiction can access this tool any time and anywhere they happen to be could be all the difference.
Reset contains 61 modules and it’s recommended that users complete four modules a week. These are real-world useable lessons like “Coping With Thoughts About Using.” Through lessons, skill-building exercises and quizzes, people struggling with drug use can go through the same sort of treatment as their in-person counterparts, but without the potential embarrassment or schedule conflicts that cause so many to fail.
Pear Therapeutics was founded in 2013 and has since raised $70 million for development of this and other medical apps. Reset, however, could lead the way to digital treatments for anxiety, depression and other mental health disorders. Another digital medicine startup called Akili is working on prescription video games for kids with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
The Critics Weigh In
Reset has faced heavy criticism, not only because it was developed from existing tools, but also due to the methodology it uses to encourage compliance.
After each lesson is complete, a patient will get either encouraging feedback or a gift card. They also receive these if they test negative for substances. Pear’s doctors argue that replacing the reward of being high with the reward of a gift card is an established practice, used to help redirect the addiction stimulus.
Apps as medicine hold a lot of promise in the realm of healthcare. There are so many smartphone users, many who almost never part with their phones, that could increase their compliance with addiction or mental health treatments if they were easier to access. And what’s easier than the little computer in their pocket?