what do they bring What do you have to pay attention to?

Apps on prescription: this has been possible since October 2020. Doctors can prescribe medical apps, for example to accompany diseases such as diabetes.

Health apps are used, among other things, to support weight loss in the case of obesity or to keep an eye on blood sugar levels in the case of diabetes. But what else do the medical programs on the smartphone do? What needs to be considered when using it and where do the apps have their limits?

What are health apps?

Health apps are small programs that can be loaded onto the smartphone. The medical applications can be used preventively and support, for example, a healthy diet, more physical activity or weight reduction. Other health apps are used for existing illnesses, for example to measure, evaluate and save medical values. There are three types of health apps:

  • Lifestyle-Apps: These are, for example, fitness trackers, nutrition and exercise apps that are intended to help promote health-conscious behavior. Anyone interested can download this type of app – sometimes for money.
  • Service-Oriented Apps: They are a service so that “nothing is forgotten”. They remind, for example, of taking medication, of early detection examinations or of upcoming doctor’s appointments. Some apps can also be used to monitor the progress of an illness. Some manufacturers offer such apps. Doctor appointments can also be arranged via certain apps, and many health insurance companies also offer apps as a medium of communication with the insured.
  • Medical Apps (DiGA): These apps are used to diagnose and/or treat diseases. With medical apps, blood sugar values ​​can be evaluated and saved – and sometimes even sent to the doctor. Medical apps must be approved as a medical device and bear the CE mark. The so-called “digital health applications”, or DiGA for short, are digital medical products with low risk classes, which can support the insured in the treatment of illnesses or the compensation of impairments, for example. They are prescribed by the doctor or psychotherapist or by the health insurance company.
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Who can use health apps?

Since the ‘Digital Supply Act’ (DVG) came into force, certain health or medical apps can be prescribed by doctors. “The statutory health insurance companies generally cover the costs for this. The prerequisite for this is that the app has been included in the DiGA directory of the Federal Institute for Drugs and Medical Devices (BfArM) and that there is a justified diagnosis that fits the app,” explains Dr. Jochen Sunken, Head of Department Health and patient protection Consumer Center Hamburg eV (VZHH).

This is how the patient comes to the DiGA

In order to get the DiGA, the patient submits the prescription he received from the doctor to the health insurance company. After a check, this creates a code for a free download. It is also possible to apply for a DiGA directly from the health insurance company without a doctor’s prescription. “But for this it is necessary to prove a corresponding indication, i.e. a medical reason for using the app,” says Sunken.

Digital health applications: They can help with these diseases

The aim of the medical apps is to recognize or alleviate diseases, to support the diagnosis or to record the course of the disease. Listed at the BfArM are, among other things, DiGA, which at irritable bowel syndrome, Tinnitus Back and knee problems, diabetes, depression and anxiety disorders can be used. Some DiGA can also help with the regular intake of medication, as well as record the course of symptoms, e.g migraine or diabetes. Oh some can pregnancy accompany or help with smoking cessation or weight loss.

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A DiGA can either be used by the patient alone or by doctor and patient together. Some DiGA can be used in combination with other devices, such as heart rate monitors or blood glucose meters. From 2023, insured persons should also have the opportunity to enter data from DiGA in their electronic patient file.

(Source: Karin Gerdes, Hamburg VZHH)

Dr. Jochen Sunken is head of the health and patient protection department at Verbraucherzentrale Hamburg eV (VZHH).

Who reviews the digital health applications?

The apps included in the DiGA directory of the Federal Institute for Drugs and Medical Devices are by no means a closed list….

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