As I write this, I have an application known as “Oxygen Measurement” on my smartphone. If I open the folder, it offers me a few options: blood pressure, heart rate, lung capacity and others – as well as a “quick check” that combines more than one measurement. I often indulge in the quick check, supposedly measuring my oxygen level, heart rate, blood pressure and even my mood within seconds. But how accurate can this possibly be when all I have to do is lightly press my index finger to the phone camera and my thumb to the green prompt on the screen?
Like every other supposed digital convenience of the modern age, health measurement devices and apps are more popular than ever. From Fitbit watches to dubious measurement apps like the one on my Samsung, more and more people are attempting to gauge their own health and well-being with the assistance of their friendly electronics. But what is the accuracy of these items, and are they truly keeping us more aware of our health?
People download these apps and buy these devices for different reasons. Yours truly is a bit of a hypochondriac, and I’ve been known to obsess over whether my heart is racing or my brain is getting the sufficient amount of oxygen more than once. (Hello, panic disorder symptoms – but that’s another article.) Others want to know how many steps they take each day or how well they sleep at night. In other words, reasons are typically as varied as the individual health concerns these programs are meant to address.
Carol Kinkler, a local woman who has experimented with step-counting applications, said she downloaded the apps because she wanted to shed a few pounds.
“I wanted to lose weight and thought hitting 10,000 steps as a goal might help me,” she said.
Because Kinkler is a tour guide in the Lowcountry, however, she soon discovered her 10,000 steps were already a cinch to achieve. While she does credit the applications for helping motivate her movement on days off, there are still some aspects to the whole health app process that give her pause.
“I have two apps that I use to get an average from, since they are about 1,500 steps off from each other,” she revealed. “I’ve also noticed that, while I’m sure there are other health benefits, my weight has not changed, even after additional steps on my days off.”
Perhaps Kinkler and I are both skeptics – or simply unlucky in our download choices – but it seems to me that these health applications have a long way to go. Even my roommate, who uses an app to monitor how much he sleeps at night, will get up in the morning all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and report that his gadget reflects he slept a mere four hours, while he feels like he snoozed eight or nine. Go figure.
“I am sure that in the future, the most basic monitoring will need to be increased to personalize health goals for the individual,” Kinkler remarked. “Probably even our footwear will become monitored to make it more accurate.”
That said, will these health applications eventually phase out the need for a face-to-face chat with your friendly physician? Probably not. I still value a heartfelt discussion with my doctor – just like I still have brunch on Sundays with five of my best friends and try to meet eligible gentlemen at fundraisers. Much like applications for finding a date or video chatting with loved ones, there will never be anything like the real deal.
But hey, it’s fun to have options. And anything that motivates us to be our best selves in between health care visits is probably a good thing.
By Denise K. James