Highmark Increases Access to Digital Therapeutic for Panic Disorder, PTSD
Healthcare Innovation | Feb 10, 2021
Author — Rajiv Leventhal
Previous research has shown that using the Freespira device has resulted in significant cost savings, while also reducing or eliminating panic symptoms and attacks
Beyond the tragic death toll of the COVID-19 pandemic, the global health crisis has also caused other significant issues that affect one’s health and wellbeing. According to one recent article in Psychiatric Times, “the pandemic has triggered significant emotional, physical, and economic problems around the world.” The physician authors of that piece went on to note, “The emerging literature measures the impact of various traumatic stressors related to COVID-19, as well as the effects of less severe types of stress exposures. COVID-19 has already led to diverse mental health problems, including anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder [PTSD], and other trauma- and stress-related disorders.”
Indeed, during the pandemic, more than 40 percent of adults in the U.S. have reported symptoms of anxiety or depressive disorder, a share that has been largely consistent, up from just one in ten adults who reported these symptoms from January to June 2019, data from a recent Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) poll found. Across the healthcare ecosystem, stakeholders are taking action to respond to this substantial increase of behavioral health issues brought on by COVID-19. One such organization is Highmark, an independent licensee of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association that covers the insurance needs of more than 5.6 million members in Pennsylvania, Delaware, and West Virginia.
Earlier this month, Highmark officials announced they would be expanding access to Freespira, a digital therapeutic for panic disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder, across its membership. Executives at the Kirkland, Wash.-based Freespira, Inc. assert its product is the only FDA-cleared digital therapeutic proven to significantly reduce or eliminate symptoms of panic attacks, panic disorder, and PTSD in just 28 days by training users to normalize respiratory irregularities.
Freespira, officials explain, is an at-home, medication-free, one-month treatment that addresses the underlying physiological causes of panic: chronic hyperventilation and/or other dysfunctional respiratory patterns. Though they may not always realize it, many people experiencing panic attacks breathe differently than others, and not only during a panic attack. Freespira teaches them to adjust their exhaled carbon dioxide (CO2) level and breathing rhythm to normal patterns. Doing so helps reduce or eliminate panic symptoms and panic attacks, sometimes in as little as two weeks, Freespira says.
With an authorization from their network physician or behavioral health specialist, Highmark members will receive a tablet computer containing the Freespira app. Members also get a sensor that measures their breathing rate and exhaled CO2 level. The sensor transmits data on the user’s breathing to the Freespira app, and real-time breathing information is then displayed on the tablet. What’s more, the patient receives personalized guidance in addition to visual and audio instructions on how to adjust his or her breathing. Members complete two 17-minute sessions each day for four consecutive weeks in their own homes, officials explain.