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Your phone can help you get healthier


It’s an exciting time to be a physician. Although there are still some glitches, information technology is making the practice of medicine better each day.

Every day, new medical research lands in my inbox through various services I have signed up for, allowing me to stay up to date with the current science. I use my iPhone for a variety of applications—drug databases, medical calculators—to help me be the best physician I can. And the electronic medical records system my office launched a few months ago is helping me better take care of my patients.

But no matter how much technology I have at my fingertips, I still need my patients to understand why I prescribed medicines for them. I need my patients to follow dietary and exercise advice. I need my patients to be actively engaged in taking care of their own health.

Thankfully, there are apps for that, too.

Patients with iPhones or Android-based smartphones can reap the benefits of innumerable medical apps. Here are a few ways you can use your phone to help take charge of your health:

  • A free app called Fooducate turns your phone into a pocket nutritionist. It allows you to scan the barcodes of products in the grocery store, learn the nutritional value of the product in question, and find healthier alternatives. The app was developed by concerned parents and nutritionists, and it might just make grocery shopping healthier and more fun.
  • Staying on an exercise program can be difficult, but with your smartphone, you can carry with you a pedometer, personal trainer or a system to log all of your exercises. I downloaded a free app called Runtastic, and it uses the GPS function of my iPhone to track everything— the start, course and finish of runs, the distance, elevation climbed, calories burned (estimated) and even the pace and time of the run. This amazing app helps track every aspect of running.
  • Running is not for everyone, so for walkers, there are free pedometer apps which make it easier to figure out whether you have walked 10,000 steps a day, the recommended amount to stay fit.
  • For serious workout junkies, there’s Nike Training Club, a free app that has videos to teach you over 60 custom built workouts. For the insane (just kidding!), the P90X app costs about $5 and is made by the same company that markets the P90X videos, which provide very high intensity workouts. It helps you keep track of your progress.
  • Health apps can even help those who are trying to get pregnant. As my wife and I work on having our second child, we are using a free app to track her menstrual cycle—allowing for a collection of data that helps our obstetrician determine ovulation patterns and whether there is a need for fertility medicines to help us grow our family.


The most revolutionary iPhone app I have seen lately, and the inspiration for this column, is an app called iBGStar. iBGStar turns the iPhone into a blood glucose meter for diabetics.

The iBG Star is a small device that you can connect directly to an iPhone. The device has a tiny hardware attachment that accepts blood glucose test strips.

When you insert a strip into the iBG Star, it reads your results and then transmits those results to the phone.

The app automatically stores the blood sugar reading, the time of day, the date and all other simple information, making the smart phone the most intelligent sugar meter ever.

The app also allows you to input data such as your most recent meal, most recent diabetes medications and notes about recent exercise. Best of all, the app organizes all this critical data in a very readable format, and allows for sharing of the data via email—a true revolution in the physician–patient partnership.

With this kind of data, it becomes much easier for me to provide advice and choose the best medicines for my diabetic patients.

The app is free, although the needed hardware costs $99 and the glucose test strips can be expensive. But the manufacturer has assured me that they are working with health insurers to eventually cover those test strips, as insurers do with many other blood glucose meters.

If you are a smartphone user, be sure to take advantage of all of the apps out there that can help you stick to your diet, exercise and fitness goals. If you are like me, you never let your phone out of your sight. The power of this technology is yours to harness.

Dr. Christopher Lillis is an internist with Chancellor  Internal Medicine in Fredericksburg. He can be reached at healthyliving@freelance