Health apps: How digital offers help to get well
Whether self-help programs on the Internet for people with depression or apps for the severely overweight: digital health applications are also booming in Hesse. The Federal Institute for Drugs and Medical Devices has certified numerous offers of this type, for example for multiple sclerosis or breast cancer, tinnitus or migraines. The health insurance companies in Hesse see this mostly positively and doctors also find that these are sensible additions.
The AOK, Hesse’s largest health insurance company, reports that demand is increasing: more than 2,400 applications have been received since there were “apps on prescription”. The most frequently asked question was an app for treating back pain.
91 percent approved applications – costs of 680,000 euros
“A total of around 91 percent of the applications were approved and only 9 percent rejected,” reported an AOK spokesman. They were rejected, for example, if an app applied for was not approved. “So far, costs of around 680,000 euros have been incurred for the Hessian health insurance fund.”
Such applications have been possible since the end of 2019, when the Digital Supply Act came into force. The Federal Institute for Drugs and Medical Devices keeps a list of which applications are available on prescription. Most recently there were 45 applications in the directory. They sometimes cost several hundred euros, which the insurance company pays if a doctor prescribes them or the insured person can prove a corresponding diagnosis.
Reviews by Users
According to a nationwide online survey of more than 2,600 AOK policyholders who had received an “app on prescription”, users rate the digital health applications mostly positively. 58 percent rated the use as a useful addition to their therapy. The users saw the greatest advantage in being able to flexibly schedule treatment with a digital health application. 40 percent stated that the application had helped them to better manage their illness.
However, only 38 percent would recommend the method to friends or acquaintances with a comparable diagnosis. Almost a fifth of those surveyed had problems implementing the digital therapy content, and a further 28 percent stated that they had had some problems. For 15 percent of the insured, the content did not match their individual illness situation.
Many providers are not able to carry out mandatory studies on the benefits of digital offers
The Techniker Krankenkasse (TK) finds such offers generally good. “Digital health applications help patients to monitor and accompany their illnesses,” says the head of the TK state representation in Hesse, Barbara Voß, but also emphasizes: “But we see a need for optimization.”
Manufacturers have to prove the benefits of the apps with studies – but according to TK, most of them don’t present any evidence at the start. You can then offer the offer “for testing”, but then have to prove the benefit within one year. For many, this does not work, so that health insurance companies have had to reimburse costs for apps without proven use, as Voß complains.
Main users of the offers are rarely tech-savvy
Since October 2020, TK has issued around 61,150 activation codes to insured persons nationwide. The top three were offers for back pain, tinnitus and obesity. In view of the novelty of the topic, demand is “within the expected range,” said Voss.
It is striking that neither young people, who are more familiar with digitization, nor men, who usually have a higher affinity for technology, are among the main users. Rather, a TK evaluation showed that 67 percent were women and the strongest age group is the 50 to 60 year olds. TK suspects that the reason is that younger people tend to be prescribed apps less often because they are simply sick less often.
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Hessian doctors also find such offers good: Among other things, they could support doctors in accompanying patients in the treatment of diseases, answering individual questions or classifying symptoms, if necessary, says a spokeswoman for the state medical association. For example, they could use photos to help doctors identify skin diseases. Apps are “a useful supplement to diagnostic or therapeutic measures”, but should “under no circumstances replace a visit to the doctor”.
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