Most people will be familiar with health apps — programs you download to your phone to track the number of steps you take, for instance.
But there are now devices that plug into your phone that can actually test a range of markers, including blood pressure and lung function.
But are they any good? We asked experts for their verdicts.
HEART RATE MONITOR
Kardia Mobile, £79, alivecor.com
CLAIM: Captures a medical-quality electrocardiogram (ECG), a reading of your heart rhythm, and tells you if it’s normal or if you possibly have atrial fibrillation (a faulty heartbeat — a leading cause of stroke).
Kardia Mobile captures a medical-quality electrocardiogram (ECG), a reading of your heart rhythm, and tells you if it’s normal
The device fits on to the back of your phone like a protective case and has two electrode pads (pictured left).
You place a finger of each hand on each pad and a chart then appears on your phone screen, showing your heart rhythm and a message to say whether it’s normal or not.
EXPERT VERDICT: ‘The problem with a lot of conventional monitoring equipment is that unless we capture the changing heartbeat as it happens or a patient wears a monitor for an extended period, we can’t see anything wrong and assume the heart is normal,’ says Dr Jerome Ment, a consultant cardiologist at Spire Parkway Hospital, Solihull.
‘This device is fantastic because most people carry a mobile phone, so if they feel any heart symptoms, they can instantly record the heartbeat.
‘The traces it captures are excellent quality and, with a little educating, anyone can read them — and forward to their doctor if they’re concerned.
‘It’s very much the way forward for patient monitoring and care.’
ThermoDock, £59.95, amazon.co.uk
CLAIM: Turns your phone into a thermometer that can spot a fever in seconds without touching the patient.
The size and shape of a key fob, this plugs into your phone’s charger socket. Hold it 5cm from your forehead and it displays the temperature on your screen.
ThermoDock turns your phone into a thermometer that can spot a fever in seconds without touching the patient
It detects infrared radiation given off by your body — the hotter you are, the more radiation.
EXPERT VERDICT: ‘A cheap conventional thermometer will do the job just as well,’ says Dr Matt Piccaver, a GP at the Glemsford Surgery in Sudbury, Suffolk.
‘ThermoDock does allow you to take a child’s temperature without waking them, but waking an ill child to take their temperature is a good way of checking their level of consciousness.’
CliniCloud Stethoscope, £119, clinicloud.com
CLAIM: Captures heartbeat and breathing patterns so you can ‘monitor any suspicious cough, wheeze, heart or respiratory concern’.
This consists of a metal disc on a lead that you put in the headphone socket on your phone.
Place the disc on your chest to record the heart, or the back to listen to your lungs.
The sound of your heartbeat or lungs as you breathe is relayed in real-time and displayed as a graph on the screen, which tells you if anything is out of the ordinary.
CliniCloud captures heartbeat and breathing patterns so you can ‘monitor any suspicious cough, wheeze, heart or respiratory concern’
EXPERT VERDICT: ‘I think the stethoscope would only be useful if you can link the data it picks up to a physician to make sense of it,’ says Martin Cowie, a professor of cardiology at Imperial College London.
‘In principle, any microphone attached to the skin at the right point can record what it hears.
‘But what it finds would be of little use if you don’t have the training to interpret heart and lung sounds.
‘Even for those with chronic heart or lung disease, listening for sounds can be confusing and may not provide useful information on which to base decisions.
‘It can be misleading, time-wasting and anxiety-provoking.’
YO, £40, yospermtest.com (available from April 1)
CLAIM: The YO clip (pictured right) is a mini microscope that can check sperm’s motility (its ability to swim, a measure of fertility).
The clip, which looks like a credit card reader, plugs into your phone over the camera.
You collect a sperm sample in the cup provided and mix in a powder, which contains an enzyme that makes the sperm more visible under the microscope.
The YO clip (pictured right) is a mini microscope that can check sperm’s motility (its ability to swim, a measure of fertility)
After ten minutes, you put a drop of the solution on to the plastic slide provided and insert it into the other side of the YO clip.
Within three minutes the YO app rates how well the sperm are swimming; you’re directed to the website for an in-depth explanation.
EXPERT VERDICT: ‘How motile the sperm is, is important, but there are many other factors that together help reveal if a man’s sperm will fertilise an egg,’ says Asif Muneer, a consultant urologist surgeon at London’s Harley Street Fertility Clinic.
‘These include sperm concentration — how many sperm per ml — as well as their size and shape.
‘I suspect it would be useful for a basic screening. But if couples are having issues, it should be backed up by a semen analysis in an accredited lab.
‘Another use would be to monitor improvements in motility with changes in lifestyle, such as improving diet, as part of a fertility treatment plan.’
BLOOD PRESSURE MONITOR
Wireless Blood Pressure Monitor, £89.95, withings.com
CLAIM: This soft cuff allows easy and precise self-measurement of blood pressure.
A monitoring device records blood pressure and sends results wirelessly to an app on your phone.
Wrap the cuff around your upper arm and, once activated, it tightens.
The Wireless Blood Pressure Monitor allows you to self-measure your blood pressure at home, and is claimed to be easy and precise to use
Within 30 seconds the result appears on screen, with a message telling you if it’s normal, too high or too low.
EXPERT VERDICT: ‘I think this is an excellent idea,’ says Claudia Carmaciu, a GP at the Queens Avenue Surgery, North London.
‘It appears to work like a regular sphygmomanometer (blood pressure monitor) used in GP clinics and hospitals.
‘It also makes it easier to track readings over time.’
TYM Otoscope, £79, cupris.com (available from March)
CLAIM: This turns a smartphone into a clinical-grade otoscope, a device used to look into ears.
The device slots on to the back of your phone like a case and has a separate attachment, a bit like an icing nozzle, that clips on where the camera is.
The nozzle is put into the ear, and links to an app which can take photos and short videos of inside the ear.
The TYM Otoscope turns a smartphone into a clinical-grade otoscope, a device used to look into ears. The device slots on to the back of your phone like a case
A library of images of common ear conditions is available in the app.
EXPERT VERDICT: ‘I think it’s incredibly unwise for people to stick anything into their ears unless they know what they are doing,’ says Matthew Trotter, a consultant ear, nose and throat surgeon at the Heart of England NHS Trust, Birmingham.
‘Most people have no idea what they’re looking for.
‘Over time, a non-medic might work out what they’re looking at, but the delicate inside of an ear isn’t really the place to learn this.
‘However, devices including this one are extremely useful to medical professionals.
‘We can carry out a full examination of the ear, show the patient what’s happening and explain things better.’
BLOOD SUGAR MONITOR
Freestyle Libre Glucose Monitoring System, £159.95, freestylelibre.co.uk
CLAIM: Frees diabetics from the hassle of glucose monitoring and finger prick tests.
This monitors blood sugar via a waterproof sensor on your arm (the sensor is the size of a £2 coin and needs replacing every 14 days; each costs £57.95).
The sensor has a tiny filament that goes through the top layer of skin and reads blood sugar levels in the fluid between the cells.
The Freestyle Libre Glucose Monitoring System monitors blood sugar via a waterproof sensor on your arm (the sensor is the size of a £2 coin and needs replacing every 14 days
It sends readings every 15 minutes to an app on your phone or you can scan the sensor any time for an instant reading.
The app warns you if blood sugar levels are too low or high. The manufacturer has applied for it to be listed on the England and Wales Drug Tariff — it could then be prescribed free of charge.
EXPERT VERDICT: ‘People like this because they can monitor their condition more easily,’ says Libby Dowling, a nurse and clinical advisor for Diabetes UK.
‘The standard way to test blood sugar levels through the finger prick test is quick but a bit invasive. With the Libre you just scan the sensor and take action if necessary.
‘One downside is that it monitors glucose around cells rather than in blood — there’s usually a 5-minute delay in what’s happening there compared to blood.
‘But it would only be significant if you were going to alter treatment. In this case, we’d advise a blood test instead, as it’s more accurate at that exact moment.’
Air Smart Spirometer, £58.79, smartspirometry.com
CLAIM: Lets you see the volume of air exhaled with each breath and monitor conditions such as asthma.
Download the app, then attach the spirometer, a device like a key fob (pictured right), to the headphone socket.
Air Smart Spirometer lets you see the volume of air exhaled with each breath and monitor lung conditions such as asthma
You then put a short cardboard tube, into the spirometer, then exhale hard into it for at least six seconds — various measurements, such as force of exhalation, are shown.
EXPERT VERDICT: ‘A spirometer is a standard, reliable way to diagnose and assess lung disease,’ says Dr Nicholas Hopkinson, a consultant chest physician at the Royal Brompton Hospital, London.
‘Home monitoring of lung function can be useful for some lung conditions.
‘Though the technology sounds as if it can do the job, for an accurate test you have to ensure the person is using it properly — blowing correctly and covering the mouthpiece, for instance. If not, the recording may be inaccurate.
‘Assuming the results are correct, how they are used and how people react matters.
‘A small, unimportant variation may lead to them calling a GP or specialist when it isn’t necessary.’