Prognosis is good for DIY doctor
The rise and rise of health apps and tracking gadgets bodes well for wellbeing, writes Jennifer Dudley-nicholson
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 Trendwatching.com, 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.’’