Do iPhone health apps work?

The number of iPhone health applications, those handy tools you can download (often for free), is already bordering on intimidating.

You can now diagnose your symptoms, track your calorie intake, get fit, monitor mood swings, quit smoking, meditate or seek spiritual guidance—all through the touch screen in your back pocket.

Health apps range from the genuinely useful—type in a symptom, get a diagnosis—to the distinctly superfluous.

Do you really need to use your phone to monitor your partner’s contractions during labour?

Even the United Kingdom’s National Health Service is on board with its new ‘Drinks Tracker”, allowing people to calculate and control their alcohol intake.

And in January, one woman told The Sun newspaper that the Free Menstrual Calendar app was responsible for the conception of her baby, after four years of trying. Doctors, too, are increasingly using apps to keep up with medical news.

But for us patients, using socalled ‘doctor apps” should never replace a visit to a flesh-and-blood general practitioner. And if in doubt about any advice you read, says Professor Steve Field, chairperson of the Royal College of General Practitioners, ‘always check that the information is validated by the NHS”.

Generally, though, he says: ‘These apps are fantastic—the more information people have about their health, the better.” Odds are that it won’t be long until most of us have app-friendly mobile phones, so here is our pick of the best doctor apps available so far.

Diagnostic Tools
WebMD Mobile (free): Enter some personal details, then use the body map ‘symptom checker” to narrow down your symptoms and get a ‘diagnosis”. It’s surprisingly easy and quick.

You can also access information about medications and treatments, and there is a useful First Aid tool that covers anything from heart attacks to cuts and bruises.

SymptomMD (R15): Great for those worried about whether to ‘bother” the doc: you tap in your symptoms, then answer questions to find out how urgently you need help, or how to treat the problem yourself.There is also the Paediatric SymptomMD app, for fretting parents.

Fitness
RunKeeper (free): Use GPS to monitor your runs (or walks). This will track your speed, distance, timing and how many calories you burned. You can then link up to the runkeeper.com website to view a history of your achievements. Good, free motivation.

iFitness (R7.50): A worldwide bestseller, this one is for gym bunnies, offering hundreds of gym-based training programs, from ‘Body Toning for Women” to ‘Glutes Definition” via ‘Expert Golf”. You can customise your workouts, set goals and monitor progress.

Emotional wellbeing
Yoga Trainer Lite (free): Provides yoga tutorials for all abilities, plus easy-to-follow, calming meditations. You have to read explanations of the poses (rather than hear them) so it can be tricky at first, but it’s a handy tool to have on the go.

Pzizz Relax (R68): This nifty app uses calming sound relaxation. Use it for short or long ‘naps” to de-stress and energise, or at night to tackle insomnia. Unlike other relaxation apps, you can customise the length of your ‘pzizz” and turn the voiceover on or off.

Pregnancy
Pregnancy Tracker from WhattoExpect.com (free): From the author of the bestselling pregnancy book, this helps you to trace the growth of your baby (in both measurements and, hilariously, as compared to objects such as walnuts or papayas), see pictures of a developing foetus and make a library of your own belly snapshots. Very informative, if you can stand the cutesy Americanisms.

iPregnancy (R23): This has better pictures of the growing baby. It also helps you get organised, with space to log antenatal appointments and the questions you want to ask, along with potential baby names.

Diet and Nutrition
Calorie Counter and Diet Tracker by MyFitnessPal (free): Tap in your age, gender, lifestyle details and weight-loss goal and you’re away. It’ll set a daily calorie limit and help you track your food and exercise throughout the day. A potentially effective weight-loss tool, if you’re prepared to be brutally
honest.

Tap & Track—Calorie, Weight and Exercise Tracker (R23): This one gives you not just the calories but also the nutritional value of what you eat and drink, keeping a daily tally and giving you breakdowns of your average carb, fat, protein, fibre, sugar, sodium or GI index.—

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