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The Wireless Way to Stay Healthy

Your bathroom scale. Your gym shoes. Your salad spinner. Now, you can add another item to your list of health and wellness tools: your smartphone.

An increasing array of apps—software programs that run on your smartphone or tablet—aim to help you prevent health problems or manage chronic conditions. Use them to:

1. Keep your medical records close at hand. Carry important health information in one convenient place. For example, an app called My Dietary Supplements keeps a list of your vitamins, herbs and similar products. That way, you can consult it at the pharmacy or doctor's office. One called MyFamily helps you select a healthcare plan and download medical records to share with your doctor.

Many hospitals have secure patient portals that allow you to access your personal health information online from the convenience of your laptop or mobile device. Lourdes Health System's portal, MyHealth, allows users to view information about their stay at a Lourdes hospital, including discharge instructions, as well as lab and radiology results. Users also can access records from their Lourdes Medical Associates physician.

2. Make healthy changes. Some apps, including several from the National Cancer Institute, offer support to quit smoking. One—QuitPal—lets you choose a quit date, log your smoking habits, see how much money you've saved and set reminder alerts. Other apps help you to count calories to aid your weight-loss efforts.

3. Access health information on the go. Aren't near your computer? Mobile apps can still link you to reliable health advice. Some focus on a particular topic, such as flu or breastfeeding. Others like iTriage can direct you to the nearest emergency room, urgent care center or pharmacy. iTriage also contains a database of thousands of symptoms, their possible causes and paths of treatment.

Others—including Health Hotlines, a directory of 9,000 toll-free numbers for health organizations—connect you to medical help when you need it.

4. Monitor medical conditions. Some apps actually transform your smartphone into a medical device. Using special attachments, you can now perform—and record—checks of your blood sugar, blood pressure and other health stats.

For example, CellScope Oto—set to be released later this year—fits a plastic tip over the phone's camera. Parents can take photos or videos of their child's ear canal and eardrum and share them with the pediatrician. The doctor or nurse will interpret the images and prescribe treatment, as well as use it to educate patients.

Another, called AliveCor, attaches to the back of your phone and allows you to record your heart rhythm and send the electrocardiogram (ECG) to your doctor. While it is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, it does not replace a more precise ECG given at your doctor's office and can miss signs of a heart attack.

Another word of warning: check the source before downloading or entering personal information into an app. Consult your device's app store for details about who developed the app and how they'll use your data. Look for those produced by government agencies, hospitals and other reliable sources.


Last reviewed: July 2014

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