One of the fastest growing areas in the mobile phone app market is health. There are more than 318,000 health apps with 200 new ones launched each day. Some ‘diagnose’ problems, others help manage conditions and many are free. But are they any good? ADRIAN MONTI asked leading experts to assess a selection available for iPhone and Android devices. We then rated them out of ten.
my mhealth – myAsthma: £39.99 – 8/10
my mhealth: myAsthma, £39.99
CLAIM: This helps those with asthma ‘best control’ their condition. It has features including a symptom diary and a medication diary to log how often you use your inhalers.
If it records that you’ve used your reliever inhaler during attacks more than three times a week, it will send a message suggesting you seek professional help. It also has videos to demonstrate correct inhaler use, and provides pollen and pollution warnings — both of which can be triggers for attacks.
EXPERT VERDICT: ‘People can lose sight of how often they are having attacks, or changes in their day-to-day symptoms, so apps like this may be helpful to alert people to any deterioration,’ says Dr Nick Hopkinson, an honorary respiratory consultant at the Royal Brompton Hospital in London.
‘Sending reminders to take medication is also a good idea, as it is vital people with asthma use their inhalers even when their symptoms seem to be under control. The only real downside to this app is that it costs almost £40, which not everyone can afford.’
Dr Foot’s Foot Pain Identifier: Free – 4/10
Dr Foot’s Foot Pain Identifier, free
CLAIM: This helps identify the cause of foot pain. An image of a foot appears on the screen, and you touch the area of discomfort.
The app suggests conditions that could be resulting in your pain, along with symptoms, causes and treatments.
EXPERT VERDICT: ‘This might be of some use at a basic level to diagnose common issues such as plantar fasciitis — a strain of the ligament which runs along the bottom of the foot. But pain in the feet isn’t always that simple to fathom out,’ says Emma Supple, a podiatrist at Supplefeet, a private clinic in Enfield, Middlesex.
‘Many foot issues are to do with how people walk, or result from biomechanical issues in the hip or back, and this app isn’t going to get to the bottom of that.
‘As a broad guide to what sort of foot problem you have, it could be useful, but often foot issues need further investigation by an expert.’
SnoreLab: Free – 7/10
CLAIM: Turn on the app and leave the phone by your bed with the microphone facing towards you to record your snores. In the morning you swipe the screen to halt the recording, then receive a Snore Score — a calculation of the volume of your snores, and a graph showing when you snored. The average score is under 25, and above 50 indicates you’re a heavy snorer.
The app lists causes of snoring, such as sleeping position or a dust allergy. You can then try the suggested remedies and the app notes if this improves your score.
EXPERT VERDICT: ‘Realising how loud and frequently someone snores might be the motivation they need to get their snoring tackled; even just using an anti-snoring nasal spray can help some,’ says Dr Neil Stanley, an independent sleep expert.
‘Also, if they have repeated loud snores, it could alert them to the possibility that they have sleep apnoea — when you temporarily stop breathing — which would need to be checked out, as it’s a condition that can have can have serious consequences.’
Moodpath: Free – 5/10
CLAIM: This tracks your mood over a 14-day period, to help detect signs of depression or anxiety. It sends you ‘yes’ or ‘no’ questions about how you’re feeling three times a day.
The data is made into a graph so you can see your ups and downs, and it will indicate if you’re affected by depression.
It also suggests mindfulness techniques and other exercises to help improve your mood.
EXPERT VERDICT: ‘Many people aren’t very good at talking about how they really feel, so this may be of use to those in that category,’ says psychotherapist Alison Moore, who runs BeMoore, a private practice in Bedfordshire.
‘I think using some of the advice it offers may remove some negative thought processes. But people with depression would normally need more intense help; and this app could reinforce a belief that someone has depression or anxiety when that is not the case. This app is certainly not a replacement for professional support.’
Mimi hearing test: Free – 7/10
Mimi hearing test, free
CLAIM: This gives an assessment of your hearing in just six minutes. Using standard headphones, you listen to a range of sounds at different frequencies, lifting your finger from the screen when you hear them.
It tests both ears separately, and any hearing loss is given as a percentage. Using this data, the app customises some devices such as phones and TVs — though only ones partnered with the app developers — to change the loudness of certain frequencies, so you can hear more clearly.
EXPERT VERDICT: ‘This is well-designed and easy to use,’ says audiologist Farah Kiana, of Hidden Hearing in London.
‘Detecting early-onset hearing loss is important. Even mild hearing loss can mean you are up to five times more likely to suffer from dementia, so the sooner any loss is treated the better.
‘The app is a starting point, but the test is simplistic compared to one you’d have with an audiologist for free.’ 7/10
Oral – B’s app: Free – 9/10
CLAIM: This shows how well you are brushing your teeth. It uses Bluetooth technology to connect your Oral-B electric toothbrush to the app on your phone. It only works with compatible Oral-B toothbrushes, such as the Genius 9000, which costs around £109.
You prop the phone up and clean your teeth, and the position-detecting technology produces an animation on the screen of a mouth divided into four sections. Each quarter will turn blue only once you have thoroughly cleaned it.
The app will also ensure you brush for two minutes, and will alert you if you’re applying too much pressure.
EXPERT VERDICT: ‘Anything that gets us brushing our teeth better is a huge benefit,’ says dentist Dr Guy Barwell of The Implant Centre in Hove. ‘Most people never get taught how to brush their teeth properly.
‘Even occasional use would lead to good habits. If you don’t want to buy a smart toothbrush, there are some excellent videos you can view online.’
Kaia: Free – 7/10
CLAIM: The app provides 15 minutes of exercises a day that can help relieve back pain. You input data about the nature of your pain and fitness, and it tailors the exercises to you.
You do them guided by images and voice instructions. Motion-tracking technology in your phone’s camera can check you are doing the exercises correctly.
EXPERT VERDICT: ‘The difficulty with back pain is that there are many causes,’ says Chris Chandler, a consultant neurosurgeon with expertise in back pain, based at HCA Healthcare’s Harley Street Clinic in London.
‘Exercise is a great way to deal with issues such as lower back pain if it does not involve tingling or numbness in the leg, which can be a sign of sciatica. But back pain can even be a sign of a serious underlying problem such as a spinal tumour, so seek medical advice before using this.
‘Once your doctor has confirmed your back pain can be managed through exercise, apps such as this one are useful.’
mySugr: free, £2.29 per month or £20.99 per year – 9/10
mySugr, free, or £2.29 per month or £20.99 per year
CLAIM: Those with any form of diabetes can use this to log information such as what they’ve eaten, medication, activity and blood sugar levels to see trends over 90 days. It will also estimate HbA1c — the average blood sugar levels over the last two to three months.
It creates reports for patients to share with their healthcare team and sets challenges, such as getting more exercise or checking blood sugar levels more often. The paid-for version has more features, including an insulin calculator.
EXPERT VERDICT: ‘With diabetes, there is a lot of information to be aware of, ranging from blood glucose levels to what you eat,’ says Dr Partha Kar, a consultant in diabetes and endocrinology at Portsmouth Hospitals NHS Trust. He leads on digital innovation for diabetes with NHS England.
‘This app allows you to log everything in one place and analyse patterns easily.
It’s very good for those with diabetes who really want to micro‑manage their condition by seeing how small changes can make significant impacts on their blood glucose.’
Clue period and cycle tracker: Free – 4/10
Clue period and cycle tracker, free
CLAIM: Women can use this to log when symptoms such as cramps, bleeding and mood swings occur, and it will predict when the next three periods are due. It will also notify women about the best time of month to try to conceive, and to do a breast check.
EXPERT VERDICT: ‘This might have some benefit as it will let women know what to expect and when, but only if they have a regular cycle — with irregular cycles this app won’t be able to accurately predict her next period,’ says Shazia Malik, a consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist at the Portland Hospital in London.
‘These apps can be useful if you want to become pregnant, to help identify your fertile time. However, some find this can increase the stress of trying to conceive.’