Health: Doctors in Germany allowed to prescribe digital apps for first time

Germany is not known for being digital friendly. But the country's health system is moving forward – and it's become the first in the world to prescribe insured health apps.

Health: Doctors in Germany allowed to prescribe digital apps for first time
Now doctors can prescribe downloadable apps. Photo: DPA

As part of the new Digital Healthcare Act, Health Minister Jens Spahn (CDU) has made it possible for some health applications – apps and web-based programmes – to be prescribed by doctors. And the costs are to be covered by the statutory health insurance (GKV) in what is thought to be a world first.

The health apps, which will be downloadable to phones or computers, are aimed at supporting patients, particularly with chronic diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure or anxiety. The hope is also to have apps to support groups such as pregnant women.

On Tuesday the first apps were unveiled after they made it through the test procedure from the Federal Institute for Drugs and Medical Devices (BfArM). They are the Kalmeda app, which promises to help with tinnitus, and Velibra, a therapy programme for anxiety disorders.

A business opportunity?

Until now, apps have been largely excluded from regular health care treatment. However, this development opens up a market for the software industry, which mainly consists of start-ups.

READ ALSO: German health care – Everything that changes for patients in 2020

“Digital health applications are finally coming into mainstream use and will put health care in Germany on a completely new footing. A completely new market is opening up with new players,” said Diana Heinrichs, board member of the German Association for Digital Healthcare. The association was founded to represent the interests of manufacturers seeking a listing by the BfArM.

According to consulting company Research2Guidance, there are around 100,000 health apps in Google and Apple stores. But many of them are leisure or wellness applications such as pedometers or sleep aids. And most of the truly medical, paid apps are based on insecure business models.

Ralf Jahns, managing director of Research2Guidance, expects that this will change as a result of the statutory health insurance reimbursement.

“Numerous developers in Germany and abroad are showing interest in the opportunities that are now being created in Germany,” he said. “This would not only affect start-ups, but also large corporations, especially from the pharmaceutical industry, or hospital chains.”

Photo: DPA

“Certainly, tech giants like Google and Co. will also discover the potential,” expects Jahns. And German start-ups would have the opportunity to become visible worldwide and become international players. Jahns estimates that “hundreds of health apps could make it into the public health insurance system in the medium term”.

But for that to happen there must be demand. A survey conducted by the Yougov polling institute for the Handelsblatt newspaper showed that only six per cent of respondents have used health apps so far. However, 59 percent could imagine doing so if their doctor prescribed them and the costs were covered.

READ ALSO: How German health care is set to become more digital in 2020

Which apps have been approved?

Although only two have been fully approved so far, a total of 27 applications for health insurance reimbursement have been received by BfArM. Uso Walter, founder of the start-up company Mynoise, was one of the first with the Kalmeda app. It aims to help patients suffering from tinnitus through behavioural therapy.

The app counteracts the “ringing in the ears” with a multi-level exercise programme. Patients receive an individual therapy plan, for example with aids to help them cope better with stressful situations. Relaxation and meditation exercises complete the offer.

The Innovation Office of the Federal Institute is also to hold advisory meetings with developers of 75 other apps. In total, the institute has received around 500 enquiries from manufacturers

How do apps qualify?

They have to demonstrate that the treatment process is effective within a year.  The effectiveness of Kalmeda, for example, will now be tested within the next 12 months in a study with 150 test patients.

However, the measures also attract criticism. “The rules as they are designed could create a gold-rush atmosphere,” fears Stefanie Stoff-Ahnis, board member of the GKV-Spitzenverband: “And that cannot be the point of healthcare.”

It also remains to be seen if doctors accept the apps and prescribe them.

Under the healthcare act, Germany wants to see more video appointments for patients plus electronic sick leave notice, and e-prescriptions, as well as improvements to IT systems for doctors and dentists.

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REVEALED: The most commonly asked questions about Germans and Germany

Ever wondered what the world is asking about Germany and the Germans? We looked at Google’s most searched results to find out – and help clear some of these queries up.

Hasan Salihamidzic, the sports director of FC Bayern, arrives with his wife at Oktoberfest in full traditional dress. Photo: picture alliance/dpa |

According to popular searches, Germany is the go-to place for good coffee and bread (although only if you like the hard kind) and the place to avoid if what you’re looking for is good food, good internet connection and low taxes. Of course, this is subjective; some people will travel long stretches to get a fresh, hot pretzel or a juicy Bratwurst, while others will take a hard pass.

When it comes to the question on the bad Internet – there is some truth to this. German is known for being behind other rich nations when it comes to connectivity. And from personal experience, the internet connection can seem a little medieval. The incoming German coalition government has, however, vowed to improve internet connectivity as part of their plans to modernise the country.

There are also frequent questions on learning the German language, and people pointing out that it is hard and complicated. This is probably due to the long compound words and its extensive grammar rules, however, as both English and German are Germanic languages with similar words in common, it’s not impossible to learn as an English-speaker.

Here’s a look at some of those questions…

Why is German called Deutsch? Whereas ‘German’ comes from the Latin, ‘Deutsch’ instead derives itself from the Indo-European root “þeudō”, meaning “people”. This slowly became “Deutsch” as we know it today. It can be a bit confusing to English-speakers, who are right to think it sounds a little more like “Dutch”, however the two languages do have the same roots which may explain it.

And why is Germany so boring? Again, probably a generalisation, especially given that Germany has a landmass of over 350,000 km² with areas ranging from high rise, industrial cities to traditional old town villages and even mountain ranges, so you’re sure to find a place that doesn’t bore you to tears.

Perhaps it is a question that comes from the stereotype that Germans are obsessed with strict about rules, organised and analytical. Or that they have no sense of humour – all of these things being not the most exciting traits. 

Either way, from my experience I can confirm that, even though there is truth to German society enjoying order and rules, the vast majority of people are not boring, and I’m sure if you come to Germany you’ll meet many interesting, funny and exciting people. 

READ ALSO: 12 mistakes foreigners make when moving to Germany

When it comes to the German weather, most people assume a cold and cloudy climate, however this isn’t entirely true. While the autumn and winter, especially in the north, comes with grey skies and sub-zero temperatures, Germany can have some beautiful summers, with temperatures frequently rising above 30C in some places.

Unsurprisingly, the power and wealth of the German nation is mentioned – Germany is the largest economy in Europe after all, with a GDP of 3.8 trillion dollars. This could be due to strong industry sectors in the country, including vehicle constructions (I was a little surprised to find no questions posed on German cars), chemical and electrical industry and engineering. There are also many strong economic cities in Germany, most notably Munich, Frankfurt am Main and Hamburg.

READ ALSO: Eight unique words and phrases that tell us something about Germany

Smart and tall?

Why are Germans so tall? They are indeed taller than many other nations, with the average German measuring a good 172.87cm (or 5 feet 8.06 inches), however this may be a question better posed to the Dutch, who make up the tallest people in the world.

Why are Germans so smart? While this is again a generalisation – as individuals have different levels of intelligence in all countries – this question may stem from Germany’s free higher education system or their seemingly efficient work ethic. Plus there does seem to be some scientific research behind this question, with a study done in 2006 finding that Germans had the highest IQ in Europe.

So, while many of the questions posed about Germany and Germans on Google stem from stereotypes, we can confirm that some aren’t entirely made up. If you’re looking to debunk some frequently asked questions about France and the French, check out this article by our sister site HERE.