Even a decade ago, the thought of tracking nearly every aspect of your physical well-being on a handheld device was utterly futuristic, bordering on outright science fiction.
Now, we have hardware and applications that have you covered from head-to-toe in terms of medical education, health tracking, and even full-blown doctor visits without ever leaving your home.
Today we’ll be looking at a selection of the best medical and health monitoring apps on the App Store.
Note: While we’ve come a long way, it’s important to remember that an application isn’t a good substitute for regular, in-person medical exams or emergency medical attention. If you want a proper medical opinion, you should always visit a doctor.
A Few of My Favorites
Patient I/O is the digital equivalent to that care sheet the doctor used to send home with you. This sheet is often used to provide patients with instructions such as “rest x amount of hours per day, take two pills at bed time, keep your leg elevated.”
Now, all of this information is available on your iOS device as well as contact information for your doctor, follow-up appointments, personalized messages from your doctor or healthcare provider, and push reminders for time-specific instructions. Currently, it’s free to use for patients and their doctors, but with an influx of recent funding and a lack of advertisements on the site, I can’t imagine one of those two items doesn’t change in the near future.
The app also has the capability to provide direct one-on-one contact through an instant messaging app with your doctor’s office. If you’re old school, maybe you’d prefer to do this on a spreadsheet.
Patient I/O works worldwide, although English is the only supported language. The barrier to use isn’t location-specific or cost-related (it’s free for you), but whether or not your doctor offers it to his or her patients.
Amwell also takes a revolutionary approach to healthcare by allowing you to see a doctor without leaving the house. When you open the app, you’re met with the list of available doctors and their specialties.
By tapping on a doctor you’re transported to their profile which contains additional information such as languages spoken, education information, a brief bio and their level of experience. You’ll also have the ability to share personal health information with the doctor by syncing previously stored data such as blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Perhaps the best part is the face-to-face interaction using a FaceTime-like interface.
Amwell could, hypothetically, work no matter where you’re located, but the doctors themselves are all in the United States. Pricing is listed at $49 per doctor “visit,” but some health insurances allow for “telehealth” checkups, which could lower or eliminate the cost.
My first inclination was to completely disregard this after it received a thumbs up from Dr. Oz (the celebrity kiss of death). Dr. Oz is high on this app, because he was a co-founder of the company behind it (Sharecare) along with Jeffrey Arnold, formerly of WebMD. Okay, that said, this app is extremely solid, and has even won a few awards in the healthcare category, including an Appy and a Webby. It’s worth the inclusion, so let’s take a look.
WebMD is like crack for hypochondriacs, and information from AskMD should probably be taken with a grain of salt as well. The major difference between the two is in the execution: while WebMD is essentially a search engine for all of the things that are probably killing you (or not), AskMD takes a consultative approach by using speech recognition technology.
The app asks you a series of questions about your issue and cross-references this with additional symptoms, current medications and known conditions or family history. Upon completion, the app alerts you if this is something that generally requires immediate medical attention, and if not, presents you with likely causes, treatments, and even doctors in your area that can help.
One in five people will develop skin cancer at some point in their lives. The most common cause for concern when attempting to diagnose the disease comes from skin blemishes. Particularly, those that change color, shape, have irregular symmetry, or begin to grow over a period of time. The problem is, these changes are often so subtle that they’re nearly impossible to notice on a day-to-day timeline.
MySkinPal attempts to remedy this by providing an interface in which to chart the locations of these moles or blemishes, as well as keeping photographs of them to refer back to over a period of time when attempting to spot changes.
MySkinPal is also in the process of building a network of physicians that specialize in these types of conditions and making it easy for users to send their data to a qualified professional for further examination and tracking. This part is currently in its infancy and doesn’t appear to be working on the app itself, but from brief conversation with the developer it’s something he is very excited about for the future.
“The app does not (and never will) attempt to suggest whether a mole is suspicious or not. We believe that only medical professionals are able to give a proper diagnosis. The app is a tool people can use to keep a detailed diary of their skin moles to help them see possible changes. The app also provides an easy way for people to share their mole history with medical professionals near them, at no cost.” –Piero Toffanin, MySkinPal creator
This has to be the most common app mentioned on any roundup of this type, but I felt it was an important inclusion because so few people take advantage of all it really has to offer. Of those who do use it, most are taking advantage of the calorie counter or fitness-related tools, typically in accordance with external sensors like heart rate monitors.
However, what most fail to realize is that the app will store your entire medical history as well as your emergency contacts, nutritional analysis, body measurements, sleep patterns, and even connect you with a doctor (if you’re a patient of the Mayo Clinic). The app even counts your steps to try to determine activity levels, especially useful for people who spend a majority of their day at the computer.
Additionally, there are a plethora of apps that use the health kit in order to track everything from fertility to blood sugar. It truly is the Swiss army knife of the health application world and I feel it’s probably overlooked by most.
From motivation (30 Day Fitness Challenges, Carrot Fit), to run/walk mileage trackers (C25K, MapMyRun), yoga (Daily Yoga), or even full body workouts at the gym (Fitocracy) there are no shortage of iOS apps to get you moving.
Some of my favorites in this category include Nike+ Training Club, which is a library of 30 to 45-minute workouts that are tailored to your personal goals and current fitness level, and the always satisfying Zombies, Run! which motivates you to run through an RPG-like experience that involves retrieving critical supplies and running from zombies.
Food & Nutrition
Calorie counters that track nutritional goals like Lose It, and MyFitnessPal are the stalwarts of this segment and for good reason, they’re both remarkably capable apps that feature a rich user interface, and powerful tracking tools that help measure calories in and out as well as goals, weight loss, and macro nutrient information.
While you can’t go wrong with these two, they don’t provide nutritional advice as far as diet. They’re great at tracking food, but not so good at telling you what you should be stuffing into your face instead of those pizza rolls and Cool Ranch Doritos. Where they’re weak, FitMenCook is strong.
FitMenCook features a relatively small (but growing) category of nutritious meals for a wide variety of nutritional needs (low carb, weight loss, after workout, etc.). All of the meals use mostly all-natural ingredients, and rely on healthy fats and proteins that pack a lot of taste – and variety – into your diet.
“Kevin [McCurry – of FitMenCook.com] is helping his followers reach their fitness goals by having them prepare healthy, delicious meals for the whole week even if you’re on a budget (includes sample $75 weekly meal plan).” — Steve Young, creator of the FitMenCook app
Sleep apps are a dime a dozen on the app store, and most of them make use of the motion sensor within your iOS device in order to track sleep quality, average hours slept per night, and sleep/wake times. The apps then track these bits of data to form data-rich charts and graphs that help you determine what you’re doing wrong when it comes to getting restful sleep.
Many also have the ability to track the best times to wake you based on the amount of movement leading up to your scheduled alarm. For example, instead of waking you up at 9am every morning, the app charts your movement and attempts to wake you up during non-REM sleep which leads to a more rested feel upon awakening.
My favorite in this category is Sleepbot. With Sleepbot, not only can it handle the features mentioned above, but it also tracks motion in your sleep and displays this in a chart that shows you just how restful a nights sleep you’re actually getting. Additionally, if you’re not afraid of what you might find, you can even record audio while you’re sleeping to see if you do indeed snore, or talk in your sleep. The noises you make, in addition to the amount of motion are great indicators of sleep-related concerns such as sleep apnea or UARS (Upper Airway Respiratory Syndrome) – which is common amongst heavy snorers.
What’d I miss? What are your favorite health-related apps for iOS?