Prog­no­sis is good for DIY doc­tor

The rise and rise of health apps and track­ing gad­gets bodes well for well­be­ing, writes Jen­nifer Dud­ley-ni­chol­son

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IT’S the lat­est trend in hitech health­care and it doesn’t in­volve con­sult­ing Dr Google. ‘‘ DIY health’’ has been named as the sec­ond big­gest trend of 2012 by Trend­watch­, thanks to a surge in fit­ness apps, record spend­ing in the cat­e­gory and an in­com­ing wave of health gad­gets that track your ev­ery move and vi­tal sign.

These smart de­vices can now record more than just the num­ber of steps you take and the calo­ries you burn. They can also judge the qual­ity of your sleep, record your blood pres­sure and test your blood sugar, up­load­ing ev­ery de­tail to an app for mo­bile mon­i­tor­ing.

Health­care and tech­nol­ogy ex­perts say the pop­u­lar­ity of the cat­e­gory is set to grow ex­po­nen­tially this year, although they warn these apps are no sub­sti­tute for pro­fes­sional med­i­cal ad­vice.

Ap­ple’s App Store al­ready houses more than 7700 health and fit­ness apps, and in­de­pen­dent re­search firm Tech­navio es­ti­mates spend­ing on these apps will reach $4.1 bil­lion by 2014.

Fur­ther­more, Re­search2 Guid­ance pre­dicts 247 mil­lion smart­phone users will down­load a mo­bile health app this year — al­most dou­ble last year’s au­di­ence of 124 mil­lion.

The pop­u­lar­ity of these apps, the firm says, has been height­ened by sen­sors at­tached to smart­phones, many of which be­gan to emerge late last year.

These gad­gets in­clude wear­able de­vices that track users move­ments, like the Jaw­bone Up, Fitbit Ul­tra, and Nike’s Fuelband (re­viewed right), as well as more se­ri­ous med­i­cal de­vices.

Univer­sity of Tech­nol­ogy Syd­ney se­nior lec­turer Dr Peter Lei­jdekkers, who founded the My­fit­ness­com­pan­ion web­site and Google An­droid app, says the trend now en­com­passes se­ri­ous med­i­cal in­stru­ments too, with smart­phone con­nec­tiv­ity added for con­ve­nience and easy mon­i­tor­ing.

‘‘ In the past these gad­gets were stand­alone de­vices,’’ Lei­jdekkers says.

‘‘ If you had a blood glu­cose mon­i­tor, you had to write down your re­sults in a book or type them into a spread­sheet. Nowa­days a lot of these new de­vices have wire­less com­mu­ni­ca­tion — Blue­tooth, ANT or wire­less con­nec­tions — and their re­sults can be added to a mo­bile phone.’’

Lei­jdekkers says this is par­tic­u­larly im­por­tant for peo­ple whose health con­di­tions re­quire con­stant mon­i­tor­ing, but the de­vices can in­creas­ingly be found in the hands of healthy peo­ple who sim­ply want to im­prove their fit­ness.

It’s a trend that has seen more than 5500 peo­ple down­load his My­fit­ness­com­pan­ion app, for ex­am­ple, that com­piles data from other de­vices.

‘‘ The line be­tween med­i­cal and fit­ness gad­gets is get­ting blurry,’’ he says. ‘‘ It de­pends on how you want to use them.’’

iworld Australia di­rec­tor Aldrin De­clase says a se­ries of health de­vices un­veiled at the Con­sumer Elec­tron­ics Show this Jan­uary will ar­rive in lo­cal stores this year, fur­ther blur­ring the def­i­ni­tion.

The ihealth Smart Glu­coMe­ter, for ex­am­ple, plugs into Get appy: US sprinter Carmelita Jeter wear­ing a Nike+ Fuelband. the base of an iphone, ipad or ipod and can be used to mea­sure blood sugar.

‘‘ You just prick your fin­ger, swab it and in­sert the swab into this de­vice and it up­loads the in­for­ma­tion to an app,’’ De­Clase says. ‘‘ You can mon­i­tor your blood sugar lev­els and it can also give you alerts.’’

The de­vice is due in Australia in Septem­ber, as it is await­ing ap­proval by health or­gan­i­sa­tions.

Other health de­vices now on the mar­ket in­clude blood pres­sure mon­i­tors that con­nect to smart­phones, weight scales that wire­lessly up­load your sta­tis­tics to an on­line data­base, and sleep mon­i­tors that pro­vide de­tails of deep sleep, rapid-eye move­ment and sleep dis­tur­bances. The good news, Lei­jdekkers says, is that all this mon­i­tor­ing can pro­vide plenty of mo­ti­va­tion for those who want to im­prove their health and fit­ness.

‘‘ You can com­pare it to watch­ing your weight,’’ he says. ‘‘ If you are aware of your weight and you want to do some­thing to change it then this sort of tech­nol­ogy works.’’

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