I love smartphone medicals apps

OK, let me confess at the start, I am a “techie”. I love computers, am a Mac groupie and was thrilled when my husband spent way more than he should have for my Siri-enabled iPhone 4GS. I have 271 apps on my phone. Sixty-three of these are medical apps developed for physicians of which I routinely use about 11.  By routinely, I mean every working day.

Recently, the Surgeon General had a contest called “The Healthy App Challenge” and announced the winners this week. I already use and recommend one of the apps, Lose It!, to my patients. Individuals log their activity, weight, goals, and calories. It has a huge database of foods and it can be customized. One can also scan in foods using bar codes (I scanned my potato chip bag barcode into the app today with my iPhone…maybe I shouldn’t be confessing to an occasional potato chip indulgence in this blog?). The website for Lose It! will import data from a Fitbit (another technology I like–my IT pedometer). since there are some studies suggesting patients who log activity and calories are more successful at losing weight, it’s a great app to recommend to patients.

The other winners include two guides that use smartphone scanning technology to determine the healthiness of a food product before buying–GoodGuide and Fooducate. Both interesting apps but not as comprehensive as the Lose It! app. The fourth winner (of four total), is Healthy Habits, an interesting and well-designed app whose purpose is to help the user change or develop new habits. It’s a bit addicting (in a good way) and the interface is both easy and fun to use. Although I have only downloaded Healthy Habits today, with the Surgeon General’s backing, I’ll likely be recommending it along with Lose It! for patients who really want to make some healthy changes in their lives and are tech savvy enough to enjoy using apps to do it.

Interestingly enough, I’ve read one doctor blogger suggesting that physicians should not recommend apps to patients due to liability. It seems like any tool that can help people change lifestyle for the better should be offered to people. Why does it seem that liability concerns sometime outweigh common sense? OH right–you have to talk to lawyers.

While I’m on the tech bandwagon, let me go back to the Fitbit. This beautiful piece of exercise equipment clips to waistband or bra strap, is unobtrusive, measures your steps, your calories burned, distance walked and can be worn at night to measure sleep efficiency. It’s a little pricey, $99, but not outrageous and the only true worry with it is just how long until it gets thrown in the washing machine. (Don’t laugh, I’ve been in panic mode more than once trying to locate it in the laundry basket.)

In the future apps will help us keep track of our own health as well as our patients. We will track blood pressures, glucose readings, heart rate, heart rhythm, etc, etc. Already an iPad was credited with saving a man’s life today. The future of apps is taking off today and it’s fun to be a part of it.

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