SAMHSA Advisory on Digital Therapeutics Features AHRQ FASTER Framework


Over the past decade, digital health has made significant progress, driven by the increased use of computing platforms, electronic medical records, mobile apps, and wearable devices in healthcare. The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the importance of telehealth, expanding access to care, especially for individuals with mental health and substance use disorders. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) released a new a new Advisory on Digital Therapeutics for Management and Treatment in Behavioral Health,  which describes the benefits of digital therapeutics (DTx); the research, regulatory, and reimbursement implications for DTx; as well as considerations for selecting and implementing DTx.

The advisory discusses the potential of DTx to manage mental health and substance use disorders, enhance patient outcomes, and improve care access and engagement. However, the advisory notes that:
      1.    Access barriers remain for uninsured and underinsured individuals, as well as individuals with inadequate broadband access and data plans.
      2.    Reimbursement for DTx remains limited, necessitating further exploration by payers.
      3.    Continued research is needed to ascertain the long-term efficacy of DTx while considering costs, patient privacy, data protection, and equity in access.

When discussing considerations for selecting and implementing DTx, the advisory highlights multiple-choice questions developed in the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ’s) Framework to Assist Stakeholders in Technology Evaluation for Recovery (FASTER). These questions assess the risk level of mental health apps and other DTx for behavioral health, as well as app functionality and alignment of app features with therapeutic goals.

Overall, DTx present a promising opportunity in behavioral healthcare, but research, regulation, access inequity, and reimbursement mechanisms need further attention before DTx can be an integral component of behavioral healthcare.

For more information on DTX for behavioral health, please see:
●    AHRQ Academy: Potential Usefulness of Apps and Other Digital Technologies for Improving Access to Behavioral Health in Primary Care