Digital Health Apps: Apps on Prescription


ZEW Economist Dr. Simon Reif in #ZEWPodcast

ZEW economist Dr. Simon Reif talks about apps for the treatment of illnesses in the #ZEWPodcast.

Germany introduced its first digital apps on prescription last autumn. Since then, doctors have been able to prescribe these so-called digital health applications for illnesses, injuries and disabilities. These apps, the costs of which are covered by health insurance, digitally support the treatment of diseases, for example. In the ninth episode of the #ZEWPodcast “Wirtschaft · Forschung · Debatten”/“Economy · Research · Debates”, Dr. Simon Reif, head of the Project Group “Health Care Markets and Health Policy” at ZEW Mannheim, talks about the function of these apps, the process of their approval and a reasonable reimbursement system.

“Digital health apps are not just about improving health,” Simon Reif emphasises in the #ZEWPodcast. Reducing the time and effort required for treatment and increasing adherence to medication are also important functions of these apps. They can help avoid unnecessary visits to the doctor’s practice, for example, by measuring health data from home that are directly transmitted to the doctor. “This way, in critical cases, you can also call in a doctor who can decide whether further treatment is necessary or not. This saves an enormous amount of resources and at the same time makes things easier for patients,” explains the ZEW economist.

Digital health apps are subject to lengthy approval process

However, the approval process for such health apps is quite lengthy. “A small preliminary study is needed to be able to prove the benefits of the app. The formal requirements for data security and data protection are also very high.” Digital health apps process very sensitive health data, which is why it is particularly important to check the apps in terms of their data protection policy. Subsequently, such an app is provisionally approved for one year in order to monitor the benefits of DiGa more closely. “After one year, it can be said whether the app has a so-called positive supply effect,” explains Simon Reif.

Since most apps are regularly improved by updates or extended by new functions, the reimbursement of digital health apps is fairly complex. The price set at the beginning, which is covered by the insurance companies, would always only reflect the initial state of an app without updates. “If an app gets much better over time, a higher price would be justified. So it would make a lot of sense if there was a dynamic reimbursement system,” recommends the ZEW health economist. Since all approved apps have been on the market for less than a year so far, the manufacturer prices still apply. Only after that can the final pricing be negotiated.