“There’s an app for that”— so clichéd, right? Even so, you might be surprised to know there probably is one for your chronic condition.
There are more than 165,000 health apps available to consumers, according to a recent report by IMS Health, a firm that tracks health care data. Most of those target wellness and fitness, but nearly a quarter are intended to help users with a specific condition monitor symptoms, remember medications, transmit information to doctors, or simply help them function better.
The need for them is clear. Nearly 50 percent of Americans had at least one chronic condition, and 25 percent had two or more as of 2012, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Although there isn’t yet an app for every condition, some consumers are well served by current apps, including those with diabetes, asthma, heart disease, and common mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression.
More on medical apps
Health apps come in a range of prices. Some are free, while others cost more than $100. However, the pricey ones can sometimes still save you money.
For example, apps such as TouchChat and Proloquo2Go are designed to help people with autism spectrum disorders who have trouble using their natural voices. These apps use evidence-based augmentative and alternative communications (AAC) methods to help users communicate with others. TouchChat comes in two versions that cost $150 and $300, and Proloquo2Go costs $250, but both can replace conventional devices that cost thousands and are less convenient.
Other apps are free but work only with a specific device, such as a glucose meter or an ECG instrument. Any apps that use devices to monitor important health measures must be approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). You can usually tell if an app is FDA approved by referring to the additional information in your preferred app store or on the device it connects to.
But are they effective? That hasn’t yet been determined. There is limited research on medical apps to date, but about 300 trials on mobile apps are underway, according to the IMS report. Once released, those clinical results should help doctors prescribe apps to patients based on which work best, a practice that is still in its infancy but shows promise.
In the meantime, here are four chronic conditions that existing health apps can help you manage along with the names of some highly rated choices.
Diabetes, like many diseases that require tracking and logging, can be well served by an app. One study published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research found that using an app with a blood sugar device improved glycemic control in adults with Type 1 diabetes.
Diabetes apps are often regulated by the FDA, and all apps for iOS and Android meant to be used with a glucose meter currently have clearance, according to the report.
The top-rated, FDA-cleared diabetes app, according to the IMS report, is the Diabetes Logbook by MySugr GmbH, which is free but has in-app purchases. Another option is Glucose Buddy by Azumio, which allows users to manually enter glucose levels from their current meters. Both help track food and glucose, and have the capability to set reminders.
Asthma and COPD
Like diabetes, asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) often require tracking. Propeller Health is an app that uses a small device attached to your inhaler to record and track every time and place the inhaler is used. It can also remind you to take daily medications and alert you and your doctor if your symptoms are getting worse.
Other options without a sensor are AsthmaTrack and Asthma MD, which allow you to record the same information manually and then use that data to talk with your doctor at your next visit.
Heart disease is the most common chronic condition in America, and there are a lot of apps that help sufferers manage it. Some require a device, like the AliveCor portable ECG or a BodyGuardian heart monitor. These devices cost $200 or more, transmit information directly to your doctor, automatically update your medical records and can replace some in-person exams.
Because heart disease often requires one or several medications, patients might also consider a medication reminder app that is customizable. The versions made by Medisafe and NPS MedicineWise have high ratings as well as features that let you connect to your pharmacy for refills and questions.
Mental health represents the largest category of condition-specific apps. Most mental health apps focus on stress management and behavioral techniques that help their users enjoy a better quality of life.
For example, Big White Wall is a free app that helps users make self-assessments and express themselves to an online community; it also features a 24/7 professional support staff. For those who need a mood tracker, In Flow is simple and user-friendly; for those who need to manage stress, the Stress & Anxiety Companion is popular. With a little tech help, you can ease your mind and relax.
With tens of thousands of health apps out there, you may want to check your online store to see if there’s one for your chronic condition. If there’s not now, there may well be something on the horizon.