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mHealth Finds the Right Note For Music in Digital Therapeutics Programs

mHealth entrepreneurs are integrating music into a broad range of rehabilitation and virtual coaching platforms, giving providers an intriguing new tool in their digital therapeutics toolkit.

Source: ThinkStock

By Eric Wicklund

- Healthcare providers may soon be singing the praises of music as another tool in the mHealth arsenal.

In much the same way that a jogger sets a pace to his or her favorite playlist, finishing a run with the theme from Rocky, healthcare providers are finding that music integrated into a telehealth or mHealth platform can set the tone for improved care outcomes and patient engagement.

“Rhythm is the main driver of the interventions we have,” says Owen McCarthy, president of MedRhythms, a Boston-based digital therapeutics company that combines sensors, AI technology and music in physical rehabilitation programs focused on walking. “And it’s the type of thing we’re going to see more and more of in healthcare.”

MedRhythms, which began as a therapy program launched out of Partners Healthcare’s Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital, is part of the new wave of digital therapeutics services aimed at replacing medications in patient care. The movement, which includes but is not limited to wearables, patches and tattoos, ingestibles, virtual support programs and virtual and augmented reality, gained traction at last year’s Connected Health Conference in Boston with the launch of the Digital Therapeutics Alliance (DTA).

“Patients, clinicians, and insurers are looking for effective solutions to prevent, manage, and treat chronic disease,” Sean Duffy, CEO of Omada Health, a developer of virtual support platforms for chronic care, said when the company joined the DTA earlier this year. “Digital therapeutics deliver reliable, meaningful clinical results that empower patients. This is important work.”

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Fitting neatly into that category are companies like MedRhythms and Health.fm, which use “music as medicine” to motivate patients and boost the effectiveness of rehabilitation and behavior change programs.

MedRhythms’ first product is MedRhythms Stride, a digital health platform for stroke rehabilitation that focuses on Rhythmic Auditory Simulation (RAS). mHealth sensors attached to a patient’s feet gather gait parameters, which are then analyzed by a smartphone app that pairs the patient’s gait with music.

McCarthy says the company screens music for qualities like beat strength and consistency, looking for tunes that enhance the patient’s mindset for walking – similar to an athlete selecting music for running or weightlifting or even a sports team choosing the right music to fire up the home crowd.

MedRhythms Stride is currently in trials and will soon be seeking U.S. Food and Drug Administration review, and a second product, MedRhythms Step, is being developed for fall prevention and aging in place programs for seniors. Other uses for the technology, McCarthy says, include rehab programs for chronic issues like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease and traumatic brain injury.

San Francisco-based Feed.fm, meanwhile, launched its Health.fm service this month with an eye toward stress relief and pain reduction as well as rehab.

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“Music integration is meant to be paired with physical recovery programs and wellness/meditation programs,” the company CEO Jeff Yasuda said in an e-mail to mHealthIntelligence. “The combination of personalized, dynamic content with the right music is where the real gains can be seen.”

Yasuda said digital fitness studies have found that music connected with an exercise program can double the length and effectiveness of an exercise program and compel participants to stay engaged longer than 90 days (the traditional drop[-off point for patient engagement).

“We're working with apps in a variety of categories to integrate music in to their digital experiences,” Yasuda said. “For programs that incorporate exercise into their plan, music is a logical (and proven) choice for driving longer sessions and more frequent engagement.”

“As music has a strong impact on the brain, it can be personalized to drive clinical outcomes,” McCarthy said in a press release issued by Feed.fm. “The neuroscience supports the use of music and the components of music as the mechanism of action to drive motor recovery and lasting physiological change. Combine this with the Digital Therapeutics movement, it is the perfect time to harness the neuroscience to mobilize and personalize the delivery of evidence-based therapeutics and we applaud the launch of Health.fm to speed this medical musical movement.”

While the current focus on these types of mHealth platforms is to pair music with connected health services, McCarthy envisions a day when the technology might dig deeper into the relationship between the mind and music – and perhaps help healthcare providers to create specific music playlists for each patient or treatment.

“They are not a healthcare deejay by any means,” he jokes. “But maybe they will want to be.”

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