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Tech Monthly: Playtime: 10 best . . .: HEALTH APPS
[February 09, 2014]

Tech Monthly: Playtime: 10 best . . .: HEALTH APPS

(Observer (UK) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) The smartphone is arguably one of the most transformational advances in health care we have seen in recent years. This little device gives us access to a technological wonderland - the health app, and there are more than 50,000 to chose from.

There are blood-pressure cuffs connected to a smartphone; sensors attached to phones that can collect myriad biological data; apps that monitor blood sugar, analyse sleep, measure pulse and respiratory rate.

As a GP, I understand the power of this new technology and I welcome the control it gives my patients - making shared decision-making and self-care a reality (and bringing fun into it). But I also am wary of overestimating the power of apps - either to change behaviour or improve health. Measuring bodily functions isn't everything. What can be measured doesn't always matter - a small drop or rise in blood pressure is neither here nor there. Doctors do more than process data - and while this technology is powerful and amazing, we must never forget that medicine is an art, as well as a science.

The BNF is the doctors' Bible, containing information on thousands of medicines - their indications, contra-indications, side-effects, doses and much more. Now instead of being contained in an ever-increasingly large book, this little app saves time and space and improves patient safety by making sure I prescribe the right medicine to my patients.

Does what it says. You enter what you drink and it calculates this into units of alcohol. It helps track how much one is drinking and gives free personalised feedback. I strongly recommend it. Using it often leads to reducing consumption - as the harsh reality of how much one drinks is brought home. Another app I'd recommend is Drink Coach.

A bit of fun - but not sure what actual use this one might have. However, for those fitness addicts who need instant affirmation of their fitness, this app is for you. Just touching the camera lens with your finger gives you your pulse rate.

A fitness tracker that gamifies walking. You're told a bomb has exploded at Inverness station and you have to transport a package the length of the UK by foot to save the world. The app is being evaluated by King's College London to see its effectiveness in increasing walking in patients with rheumatoid problems.

One of my favourites and one I recommend to many patients who suffer from insomnia. This app monitors sleep pattern, tells you how long you are in deep sleep and how long in light sleep. It tells you how many hours you actually are asleep - which is a lot longer than many patients think, and it wakes you up in the lightest phase of sleep.

This is provides users with online support for mental health problems. It provides a safe space to share experiences and get support - from real (not virtual) people. The site is monitored 24/7 by moderators. The only down side is that it is subscription only - though some health service areas pay for their local population to use it.

Developed by UK doctors and academics, this app works out your risk of developing type 2 diabetes in the next 10 years by asking you a series of simple questions. Being able to predict if you are risk of diabetes should lead to a change in behaviour.

Sliders allows you to track how you feel about your wellbeing, energy levels, sleep etc, using questions you can set yourself and simple sliders to input the answers. It then creates graphs that give you some insight into your highs and lows.

This app aims to cure users of arachnophobia. It uses "'systematic desensitisation" - mainly showing sufferers a series of picture of spiders, from drawings to an interactive tarantula. Created with the help of a psychiatrist, the app has recently been approved by the NHS.

Enables you to track your headaches: when they start and end, how severe they are, which area of the head you feel them and which medication you take. This can help build up a picture of what triggers them. This app is recommended by the NHS - its Health Apps Library is also a good place when looking for medical apps.

Captions: Dr Clare Gerada at her surgery in Vauxhall, south London. Photograph by Frank Baron for the Observer (c) 2014 Guardian Newspapers Limited.

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