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Digital support for health and care

What benefits you get from digital health and care apps

Digital helpers are increasingly moving into everyday life and also offer numerous possibilities of support for people in need of care and caregivers. In addition to technical applications or home installations, apps for smartphones and tablets have appeared to help with organisation, health care and everyday life. The latter are summarised with the terms "DiPA" and "DiGA". In this article, you will learn what benefits relatives, care staff and people in need of care can expect from these helpers and what role they will play in the future.

What is a digital health app (DiGA)?

Digital health applications are apps that usually help people to better cope with their own illness or other impairments. They help with the Symptom recognition and monitoring and give Tips for alleviation or compensation of illnesses. Also possible are, for example, medication reminder functions or entry options for health data that can then be discussed with the doctor (e.g. blood sugar, blood pressure, etc.). In addition, many digital health apps are already capable of communicating with other digital devices (e.g. blood pressure monitor, scales, blood glucose meter). The decisive factor for classification as a DiGA is testing and certification by the Federal Institute for Drugs and Medical Devices (BfArM). Incidentally, fitness trackers or similar apps that are used for prevention or support and are offered in large numbers in many app stores do not count as DiGAs in the sense of the Digital Health Care Act (DVG), which is the basis.

DiGA apps can be prescribed by the doctor

The special thing about these digital helpers is that they can be prescribed by a doctor. They are therefore Apps on prescription. The prerequisite for this is certification by the BfArM, which is based on two criteria:

  • Low risk when using the app

  • A so-called "positive care effect" - that is, the app must actually contribute to better management of a disease, to alleviation of symptoms or pain, to detection or at least facilitate the exchange with therapists and doctors.

If these requirements are met, the costs can be reimbursed by the health insurance fund. To do this, simply submit the prescription. However, a prescription may not even be necessary: If you prove or demonstrate the benefit to the health insurance company, many health insurance companies will cover the costs of the DiGA even without a prescription. It is therefore worthwhile to check this out. In the official DiGA directory of the BfArM, interested parties can find a list of all apps that meet these requirements and have been certified so far. These include over 40 apps, among others on the topics of stress, non-smoking, depression or diabetes.

DiGA directory

In the official DiGA directory of the BfArM, interested parties can find a list of all apps that meet these requirements and have been certified so far. This includes over 40 apps, among others on the topics of stress, non-smoking, depression or diabetes.

What is a digital care application (DiPA)?

Digital care applications are intended to support those in need of care as well as caring relatives or care professionals. The aim of such an application is to Support for independence and the Preserving the abilities of people in need of care. Although improving these skills would be optimal, often enough avoiding worsening is the more achievable goal. Relatives or care professionals should also be given the Communication and organisation be made considerably easier. In addition, the Support with household management and the Stabilisation of the domestic situation stated aims of the applications. Thus, DiPAs are primarily intended for home care. DiPAs may also be able to communicate with other devices such as blood pressure monitors, fall sensors or incontinence sensors. However, domestic robots are not covered by this regulation.

Finally, a digital care app can also help to perform training sessions or exercises on a regular basis. For this, DiPAs can be used not only on a smartphone, but also on a tablet or computer under certain circumstances.

Attention: Additional functions possible in DiPAs

In contrast to DiGAs, digital care applications are allowed to offer so-called "supplementary support services". These have not yet been fundamentally defined; the BfArM speaks of counselling and coaching services. However, they must be clearly distinguished from the DiPA services of the app. Additional costs that could be incurred as a result are not covered by the long-term care insurance fund. However, it is to be expected that many providers will offer one or the other function free of charge under the pressure of competition; care recipients and relatives could therefore benefit from a comparison.

Costs of DiPA apps also reimbursable

Although a DiPA, unlike a DiGA, cannot be prescribed by a doctor, the costs are also reimbursable. In this case, however, it is not the health insurance fund that is responsible, but the long-term care insurance fund. There are two basic requirements for this as well:
  • The care app has been included in the DiPA directory of the BfArM after testing
  • The existence of a care degree

At the same time, the DiPA directory is currently still under construction. As of today, no official applications are available - the first certified DiPAs are expected for the second quarter of 2023.

The BfArM assumes that around four million people in need of care are entitled to the provision of a DiPA. It is therefore worthwhile to Application to the competent long-term care insurance fund in any case, as soon as the DiPA directory of the Federal Institute is available. However, since the statutory requirements are already in place, it could pay off to apply today in some cases.

According to the BfArM:

"If the long-term care insurance fund approves the provision of a DiPA, the person in need of care is entitled to reimbursement of expenses for DiPA according to § 40a SGB XI as well as to benefits for the use of supplementary support services of outpatient care facilities according to § 39a SGB XI up to a total amount of 50 euros a month.


Overview:

DiGA and DiPA in comparison

Even if the differences seem small at first, the respective applications pursue different goals, therefore have different contents and are reimbursable differently. Here again at a glance:

DiGA

(digital health app)

  • Focus: Health surveillance
  • Costs are covered by the health insurance (on application or on prescription)
  • Overview in the DiGA directory of the BfArM

DiPA

(digital care application)

  • Support in the care of people in need of care
  • Costs are covered by the long-term care insurance fund
  • Overview in the DiPA directory of the BfArM (currently still under construction)

Short info: What about the data protection of care and health apps?

Basically, relatives or patients do not have to worry about the data protection of the DiGA or DiPA. Each of these digital apps undergoes an audit by the BfArM, which of course also includes the handling or storage of sensitive health data. Unlike numerous other health apps that can be purchased for free, users are definitely on the safe side here.
If these requirements are met, the costs can be reimbursed by the health insurance fund. To do this, simply submit the prescription. However, a prescription may not even be necessary: If you prove or demonstrate the benefit to the health insurance company, many health insurance companies will cover the costs of the DiGA even without a prescription. It is therefore worthwhile to check this out. In the official DiGA directory of the BfArM, interested parties can find a list of all apps that meet these requirements and have been certified so far. These include over 40 apps, among others on the topics of stress, non-smoking, depression or diabetes.
DiPA and DiGA - useful additions to the digital offer
Digital helpers, also in the form of apps or applications, can be a great support for patients, people in need of care, relatives and care professionals - especially in the home environment. The care and health insurance companies as well as the legislator have also recognised this and created the legal basis for the costs to be covered in many cases. It is therefore certainly worthwhile to approach the possibilities and opportunities of digital development in care with an open mind and to try out the corresponding applications for oneself if necessary.