Caterna offers prescribable, reimbursed eye-strengthening gaming app in Germany

By Brian Dolan
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Caterna Vision TherapyBerlin-based Caterna Vision Therapy will soon become the developer of the first mobile medical app in Germany to be prescribed to patients by physicians and that has reimbursement in place from a health plan, Caterna's founder Dr. Markus Müschenich told MobiHealthNews. Beginning tomorrow -- April 1st -- Caterna's online program for children with amblyopia, a visual impairment condition, will be reimbursed by health insurance provider Barmer GEK and available through a partnership with Ocunet, a nationwide eye care center and practices chain.

Caterna's therapy was originally developed at the University of Dresden and it secured a CE Mark in 2011. The app is intended to be prescribed along with occlusion therapy, which is an eye patch worn over the child's stronger eye in an effort to strengthen the weaker one. With Caterna the child has regular training sessions via the app where the weak eye is stimulated by "therapeutic light stimuli" displayed on the computer screen or mobile device. (The company's app recently became available in the Android app market Google Play.) Caterna says that ophthalmologists can personalize the stimuli for each patient's particular needs. Caterna has combined the therapeutic stimulus with "exciting games" to keep the children interested in the training program.

The prescribing physician can also track the child's adherence and progress because each session of Caterna that the child plays at home or on-the-go is recorded automatically.

Caterna explains that amblyopia is a functional disorder of the eye that typically come from squinting and can lead to severe visual impairment. The company says that because the condition is caused by a processing dysfunction in the child's brain, eye training can help. About 5 percent of the European population is affected by amblyopia, Caterna says. 

For the past 100 years occlusion therapy, or simply having the child wear a patch over their stronger eye to simulate the weaker eye for a period of time during the day, has been the standard of care for amblyopia, Müschenich said.

"Occlusion is perceived as an unpleasant inconvenience in everyday life by the affected children and often leads to unsatisfying results," he said. "The eye patch therapy [also] does not provide any compliance control for doctors."

Müschenich said that the research for Caterna began at the University of Dresden about 15 years ago, and for the past four years a version of the therapy has been made available to patients on computers at some ophthalmologists' offices. The Caterna launch tomorrow marks the first the time the therapy has been deployed as a home health offering. It is only available via prescription.

Caterna's digital therapy is meant to complement occlusion therapy, which Müschenich says might be shortened by a factor of eight for patients who use Caterna.

The company is in discussions with other health plans to cover the digital therapy, Müschenich said. Caterna was spun out of Flying Health, a one-to-one incubator that specializes in health startups developing digital therapies, which "means that software is used to produce effects we only know by using drugs," Müschenich wrote.

Next up for Caterna: A similar therapy for age-related macular degeneration and international deployment.