Atopic dermatitis app now covered by health insurer

Atopic dermatitis is an insidious disease that occurs primarily in children and young people and not only affects the skin, but can also become a major psychological burden. An app created by the Berlin-based medical device manufacturer Nia Health helps patients and parents better manage the disease and collects personalized data to develop targeted therapies. The young company spun off from Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin thanks to an EXIST Business Start-up Grant from the BMWi, and it received support during the founding phase from BIH Innovations, the joint technology transfer unit of the BIH and Charité. Since July 1, 2020, Nia Health has been cooperating with statutory health insurer DAK-Gesundheit. Further cooperations are expected to follow.

Atopic dermatitis, a form of eczema, is a chronic, relapsing skin disease that can be triggered by a number of different factors. The atopic dermatitis app Nia, which was developed by the start-up Nia Health, helps document new flare-ups and identify potential factors such as stress or fragrances. Since July 2020, Nia Health has been cooperating with DAK-Gesundheit and has made the full premium version of the app available to all DAK customers free of charge. This includes such features as access to the latest findings and the creation of reports compiled from data collected by the app.

“Our first contact with DAK was at a Meet & Greet hosted by the Berlin Institute of Health,” says Tobias Seidl, founder and managing director of Nia Health. “This event provided an opportunity for start-ups and Charité spin-offs to network with companies from the healthcare sector. It was here that we caught the attention of representatives from DAK. The cooperation is an important milestone for our young company. By teaming up with statutory health insurers, we can help even more patients.”

Keeping track: Atopic dermatitis has many triggers

More than 4.5 million people in Germany suffer from atopic dermatitis, and half of these are children. The chronic skin disease is characterized by red, scaly, and sometimes oozing patches of eczema and severe itching. In addition to anti-inflammatory agents, treatment also depends on knowing one’s personal triggers and maintaining an overview of disease progression. The Nia app allows patients to take pictures of the affected areas of skin and mark them in the app. A questionnaire helps adds context to the pictures: Have I been in the sun a lot recently? Have I used a new lotion? What have I eaten recently? The questionnaire is based on a dermatologically and clinically validated score: The SCORAD, or PO-SCORAD if completed by patients, stands for “Patient-Oriented – SCORing Atopic Dermatitis.” It measures the severity of the atopic dermatitis over time and lets patients compare the differences between their flare-ups. Patients gain a better understanding of their condition, and doctors can treat the disease more effectively.

Leveraging individual data and the latest research for therapeutic success

“In the numerous patient interviews we conducted, young parents in particular told us that they want to prepare themselves better for the next doctor’s appointment,” says Seidl. “So the first feature we developed lets users create a professional report that gives doctors the fundamental data needed to make therapeutic recommendations.”

DAK is convinced of the concept and is including the app in its services for a pilot period of six months. Andreas Storm, chairman of the board of DAK-Gesundheit, says: “With Nia, we are the first statutory health insurer to use the latest scientific findings to help patients understand atopic dermatitis better and quickly evaluate symptoms.”

The app presents these findings in an easy-to-understand format based on an educational curriculum devised by the non-profit association Arbeitsgemeinschaft Neurodermitisschulung (AGNES). Dr. Doris Staab examined the curriculum’s effectiveness in 2006 in a double-blind placebo trial. She was able to show that patients that used the curriculum over a long period of time could reduce their PO-SCORAD and increase their well-being.

Reimbursable by all statutory health insurers?

To ensure that more patients can benefit from the app and the curriculum, Nia Health is already in talks with other statutory health insurers about a cooperation. The long-term goal is to have the atopic dermatitis app Nia listed in the Federal Institute for Drugs and Medical Devices’ catalogue of digital health apps. The use of the premium version of the app would thus be reimbursed by all German statutory health insurers.