Annual health conference of euroforum and HIMSS: Digital Health Applications (DiGA) on the rise

Panel discussion with Dr. Katharina Ladewig, CEO of EIT Health Germany

The COVID-19 pandemic gave the digitalisation of German healthcare a major boost. This was the conclusion reached by the annual health conference of euroforum, a Handelsblatt subsidiary, and the Management Systems Society (HIMSS), which took place online this year, from the 12th – 13th November 2020. Dr. Katharina Ladewig, Managing Director of EIT Health Germany, participated in a panel discussion on the current status and prospects of Digital Health Applications (DiGA) as part of the event. She debated with two leading representatives of ambitious companies in the digital health industry. There was a great deal of optimism regarding the digitalisation process.

Start-up/scale-up – the corona boost for digital healthcare

Digital health innovations such as the CASPAR Health online rehabilitation platform for rehab clinics and the Cara Care app for patients with irritable bowel syndrome benefit from the current situation due to the greater interest of their respective target groups. In the panel discussion with Dr. Katharina Ladewig, Dr. Lara Maier, Head of Medical and Business at CASPAR Health, and Jesaja Brinkmann, Co-Founder of Cara Care, spoke about the opportunities and challenges of DiGA in the changing German health system. It quickly became clear that the three participants did not consider the current boost of digitalisation to be a flash in the pan: “During this time, everyone learns more about the possibilities of digital healthcare”, explained Dr. Ladewig. In the sustainable shaping of innovations, a lasting added value for the patients would play a role. Since Cara Care is aimed at a chronically ill target group, and the online therapy platform of CASPAR Health permits the care of a higher number of patients in clinics, Brinkmann and Dr. Maier considered these requirements in their companies fulfilled.

Opportunities and challenges through the certification of DiGA

The potential of DiGA to promote the diagnosis and treatment of diseases as well as a healthy lifestyle, was legally recognised by the entry into force of the Digital Supply Act (DVG) in December 2019. Since the end of May 2020, applications listed in the DiGA directory by the Federal Institute for Drugs and Medical Devices (BfArM) can be prescribed by the doctor at the expense of statutory health insurance. While Dr. Ladewig, Dr. Maier and Brinkmann basically supported the possibility of certification, they saw a lot of room for improvement. Certification of the online therapy platform is currently out of the question for CASPAR Health, as this requires a focus on certain patient groups, while the offer itself is aimed at clinics.

Brinkmann confirmed an ongoing BfArM approval procedure for the Cara Care app, but expressed concerns about the decision of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) regarding the “Privacy Shields” – “In order to validate the certification, the processes must be brought into accordance with the applicable European General Data Protection Regulation.” For this reason, improvement is imperative.

Visibility of added value through evidence-based results

For a general recognition of digital health innovations by health service providers, health insurance companies, and patients, evidence-based results are particularly necessary.    Dr. Maier and Brinkmann agreed that the manufacturers should spare no expense or effort in supplying them, which was a pleasant surprise to Dr. Ladewig. “Start-ups and young companies are often not aware of the importance of evidence-based data for reimbursement by health insurance companies, and thus for the market success of their innovations in the health industry,” she noted. After a provisional inclusion in the BfArM’s DiGA catalog, DiGA manufacturers currently have one year to demonstrate the added value generated by their product. The requirements are by no means too low, as the participants in the panel discussion agreed – a longer time span to find evidence would ultimately also slow down the innovation processes. Where there is a need for improvement, adjustments will have to be made, said Dr. Ladewig. “After all, it is our objective to have the best technologies quickly on the market and with the patient.”

At the end of the panel discussion, Dr. Ladewig expressed one wish above all: “That we don’t retreat, now that we have made bold steps forward. That we enshrine digitalisation firmly into the German healthcare system and exploit its chances in order to serve patients with the best medicine possible.”