Digital Therapeutic Care Apps With Decision-Support Interventions for People With Low Back Pain in Germany: Cost-Effectiveness Analysis

Daniel Lewkowicz, Attila M. Wohlbrandt, Erwin Bottinger

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


Background: Digital therapeutic care apps provide a new effective and scalable approach for people with nonspecific low back pain (LBP). Digital therapeutic care apps are also driven by personalized decision-support interventions that support the user in self-managing LBP, and may induce prolonged behavior change to reduce the frequency and intensity of pain episodes. However, these therapeutic apps are associated with high attrition rates, and the initial prescription cost is higher than that of face-to-face physiotherapy. In Germany, digital therapeutic care apps are now being reimbursed by statutory health insurance; however, price targets and cost-driving factors for the formation of the reimbursement rate remain unexplored. Objective: The aim of this study was to evaluate the cost-effectiveness of a digital therapeutic care app compared to treatment as usual (TAU) in Germany. We further aimed to explore under which circumstances the reimbursement rate could be modified to consider value-based pricing. Methods: We developed a state-transition Markov model based on a best-practice analysis of prior LBP-related decision-analytic models, and evaluated the cost utility of a digital therapeutic care app compared to TAU in Germany. Based on a 3-year time horizon, we simulated the incremental cost and quality-adjusted life years (QALYs) for people with nonacute LBP from the societal perspective. In the deterministic sensitivity and scenario analyses, we focused on diverging attrition rates and app cost to assess our model’s robustness and conditions for changing the reimbursement rate. All costs are reported in Euro (€1=US $1.12). Results: Our base case results indicated that the digital therapeutic care strategy led to an incremental cost of €121.59, but also generated 0.0221 additional QALYs compared to the TAU strategy, with an estimated incremental cost-effectiveness ratio (ICER) of €5486 per QALY. The sensitivity analysis revealed that the reimbursement rate and the capability of digital therapeutic care to prevent reoccurring LBP episodes have a significant impact on the ICER. At the same time, the other parameters remained unaffected and thus supported the robustness of our model. In the scenario analysis, the different model time horizons and attrition rates strongly influenced the economic outcome. Reducing the cost of the app to €99 per 3 months or decreasing the app’s attrition rate resulted in digital therapeutic care being significantly less costly with more generated QALYs, and is thus considered to be the dominant strategy over TAU. Conclusions: The current reimbursement rate for a digital therapeutic care app in the statutory health insurance can be considered a cost-effective measure compared to TAU. The app’s attrition rate and effect on the patient’s prolonged behavior change essentially influence the settlement of an appropriate reimbursement rate. Future value-based pricing targets should focus on additional outcome parameters besides pain intensity and functional disability by including attrition rates and the app’s long-term effect on quality of life.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere35042
JournalJMIR mHealth and uHealth
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2022


  • Back pain
  • Cost-effectiveness
  • Cost-utility analysis
  • Digital health
  • Digital health app
  • Digital therapy
  • EHealth
  • Health apps
  • Low back pain
  • MHealth
  • Markov model
  • Mobile health
  • Orthopedic
  • Pain management


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