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Smartphone apps encourage better habits

  • Washington Post
  • Published Monday, Dec. 24, 2012, at 7:44 p.m.

Holiday traditions vary from family to family, but there’s one ritual that’s universal.

“Everyone comes together with the flu, sits around and makes each other sick,” physician Peter Hudson says.

Hudson is CEO of iTriage, a free mobile devices application (available for iOS and Android, and online at Itriagehealth.com) that is one of the most popular products in the emerging mobile health – or mHealth – market.

With more than 8 million downloads, iTriage has tapped into something people want. It’s a combination of a symptom tracker (with information reviewed by Harvard Medical School) and a virtual yellow pages, directing users to nearby doctors, hospitals, pharmacies and more.

“We’ve heard hundreds of stories of people saving time, money and lives,” says Hudson, noting that the top searches each December are for upper respiratory infections and depression.

It’s something to keep in mind if you open up a smartphone on Christmas morning and find yourself in need of a trip to the emergency room later in the day.

The mHealth Summit earlier this month at National Harbor near Washington showcased several other smartphone applications designed to track your behaviors, encourage better habits and generally improve well-being:

Juice (free, iOS): The self-proclaimed “World’s Funnest Energy Tracker” really is fun. The cartoony interface helps keep tabs on your sleep, exercise and nutrition. (Were you an “awful” eater today? Tap the plate of junk food.) Daily tips aim to boost results over time.

GetHealth (free, iOS and Android): With a concept inspired by Foursquare, this app lets you “check into” healthy behaviors. Your actions translate into “Munch,” “Move” and “Mind” points, weighted based on your current health. Use those numbers to compete with friends.

PillJogger Lite (free, iOS): Keep your medications straight with this virtual pillbox that sends reminders and helps track what you’ve taken. For now, good behavior is rewarded with games, but the app plans to offer coupons, rebates and other prizes eventually.

Weight Watchers on the Go: Santa knows if you’ve been bad or good – and, now, so does Weight Watchers. The diet program just introduced its members to Weight Watchers 360, a mobile app for iPhone and Android designed to be a constant companion. Not only does it track food (with the help of a bar code scanner and a “Snap & Track” feature that lets you photograph a meal and assign a point value later), but it also focuses on your environment, says Catherine Ulrich, senior vice president of WeightWatchers.com. A “Spaces” function considers where you are (home, traveling, etc.) and your options, and offers “Panic Moment” advice. “Routines” helps you commit to small steps (such as eating breakfast). Add it all together, and that smartphone can connect you to long-term success.

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