Health care used to be more of an episodic endeavor, meaning that we mostly dealt with it when we had to — when we were sick. Now, computers and constant connectivity are supporting health care’s shift to being more of a continuous endeavor — aided by thousands of consumer health applications, or “apps,” that we can download to our smartphones.
That’s the opinion of Harvard Medical School professor Joseph C. Kvedar, MD, founder and director of Partners HealthCare Center for Connected Health. (The term “connected health” refers to technology-enabled programs and potential new strategies in health-care delivery.) Of course, no app can substitute for regular care from your doctor, Dr. Kvedar said. But you can use health-related apps to motivate yourself to follow a healthy lifestyle… better manage your medical condition… and give your doctor more complete information on your health status.
Currently, most apps are for iPhones, though Android, BlackBerry, Palm, iPod Touch and iPad also have their share — and the universe of apps for all types of smartphones is expanding rapidly. So if the specific apps below are not available for your device, search your apps store for something similar.
Apps can help you manage a chronic health condition…
Allergy Alert provides a four-day forecast of allergy, asthma, cold-and-cough and ultraviolet index levels for your area.
BP Buddy logs 60 days of home-monitored blood pressure readings (plus heart rate and stress levels) — important info to share with your doctor.
iHeadache allows you to do real-time headache tracking by inputting your symptoms, severity, possible triggers, medication usage and more. Then you can share this information with your doctor to help determine the most appropriate treatment. The app also helps classify the type of headache you have, such as a migraine or tension headache.
OnTrack Diabetes tracks glucose levels, blood pressure, pulse, weight, exercise, diet and medications… and produces graphs or reports for your doctor.
Pillbox helps you stay on schedule in taking all your medications and supplements. Also: You can search a database for medication information.
Exercise apps make workouts more fun and more effective…
RunKeeper Pro records your runs using your smartphone’s built-in GPS capabilities. Whether you jog, walk, cycle or ski, you can see your distance, pace, path traveled and calories burned… then later sync data to the www.RunKeeper.com Web site to track your progress.
MoboVivo Workout provides a wide selection of exercise videos — ballet, yoga, belly dancing and more — that you can use to work out wherever you go.
Weight-loss apps keep you motivated, connected and informed…
WiScale is an app that uses the Withings Internet-connected body scale ($159 at www.Withings.com) to track your weight and body mass index and transfer the information automatically to your smartphone. It includes a social dimension — you share information and motivation with a community, joining virtual forces to engage in healthier behaviors. “It’s like attending a weight-loss group without going in person,” Dr. Kvedar said.
Fast Food Calorie Counter lists calories, fat, carbs, fiber and protein content of thousands of menu items from dozens of popular restaurant chains (including some that you might not relegate to “fast food” status).
Educational apps help you diagnose a problem or handle an emergency…
uHear reveals whether your hearing is in the normal range.
Emergency First Aid & Treatment Guide tells you what to do in case of burns, frostbite, seizures and more… and how to use emergency medical equipment, including a defibrillator.
Many apps are free, while others typically cost from $1 to $10 — so the financial damage is slight if you end up not liking an app that you have downloaded. But beware: The FDA does not regulate health-related apps, and some may be the modern equivalent of snake oil. (Do any of us really believe that the blue light generated by an iPhone can smooth away wrinkles?) As Dr. Kvedar pointed out, “With any app, if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.”