Hims kicks off mental health offerings with free group therapy, campaign calls for public access to digital therapeutics during COVID-19 emergency and more digital health news briefs

Also: FDA COVID-19 policy allows for remote use, digital modifications to ophthalmic devices; 23andMe launches genetics study to understand varying COVID-19 responses.
By Dave Muoio
04:28 pm

Easy access to (temporarily) free counseling. Consumer telehealth and mail-order prescription services Hims and Hers are dipping into the mental health wellness space. The brands kicked off new anonymized group therapy and guided meditation offerings yesterday, with the therapy sessions led by a licensed mental health practitioner.

The group sessions are currently being offered free of charge in light of COVID-19 stress. The brands have also opened up wait-lists for upcoming mental health-focused services, such as individual online therapy.

Digital therapeutics want a role in COVID-19 response. The Digital Therapeutics Alliances is rallying industry players for a new effort targeting publicly funded health programs.

Dubbed the Urgent Access campaign, the new effort specifically calls for the U.S. Health & Human Services, and potentially Congress, to use its emergency COVID-19 powers to provide digital therapeutics access through Medicare and Medicaid. In Europe, the organization is pushing for the European Ministries of Health to authorize the use of these products within each country's healthcare systems, or to expand use if pathways already exist in a particular country.

“The impacts of COVID-19 on patients and clinicians continue to grow as quarantines are extended, as vulnerable populations are increasingly at risk of viral exposure, and healthcare resources are further restricted to those requiring hospital care,” Dr. Megan Coder, executive director of the Digital Therapeutics Alliance, said in a statement. “While digital therapeutics do not treat COVID-19, they directly impact critical consequences of this pandemic. Yet today, patients covered by publicly funded programs rarely have access to this category of medicine.”

FDA makes increases digital eye-assessment availability. Last night the FDA issued new guidance extending the use of remote ophthalmic assessment and monitoring devices during the COVID-19 pandemic. Applicable to devices such as visual acuity charts, visual field devices, general-use ophthalmic cameras and tonometers, the agency guidance will be allowing certain modifications to these devices, so long as they "do not create undue risk in light of the public health emergency."

The new policy outlines a sampling of the types of modifications the FDA has in mind: indication changes from healthcare to home use, the addition of portable or handheld device features, and hardware or software changes "to include virtual reality or mobile technology for remote assessment or monitoring capability."

"In developing this policy, FDA’s intent is to foster the continued availability of safe and effective medical devices while being flexible regarding modifications made to devices for remote assessment and monitoring of ophthalmic parameters in response to the COVID-19 public health emergency," the agency wrote.

Could genetics impact COVID-19 severity? Age, concurrent illness and health histories are all clear influences on a COVID-19 infection's severity, but now 23andMe is interested in exploring whether or not an individual's genes may be playing a role as well. The consumer genomics-testing company announced Monday that it is hoping to enroll hundreds and thousands of its U.S. customers in a longitudinal genome-wide association study, with the end goal of identifying specific genetic variants that might be associated with disease severity.

“Ultimately, we want to publish our research findings in order to help provide more insight on COVID-19 for the scientific community," Joyce Tung, VP of research at 23andMe, said in a blog post from the company.

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