Phone applications that improve health, save lives

15 Feb

February 15, 2010

By Geoff Meeker

A few holdouts are still cynical about smartphones. They see them as overrated, a waste of time and social poison when they ring in a restaurant.

Okay, I can agree on the latter one. When out in public, you should at least set it to vibrate and let voice mail handle the call.

But smartphones, and in particular the Apple iPhone, are pushing the boundaries and forcing a rethink of what these devices can do.

Enabling this leap forward are the iPhone’s sharp, full colour screen, with its brilliant ‘touch’ interface, and especially the operating system, which allows the user to download and run new applications.

These applications are at the heart of iPhone’s phenomenal success. They change and broaden the capability of the device, taking it in directions that continue to surprise users. (Applications are not new to smartphones, but the iPhone technology broke the market wide open.) There are game applications, ebook readers, voice recorders, wifi-based GPS, PDF viewers, and more… literally thousands of applications, many so innovative that they re-purpose the smartphone in ways you hadn’t imagined.

Some of these applications, or app’s, have proven effective in medical care, and in at least one case, saved a person’s life – without a cellular signal, that is.

Following are just a few of the app’s for iPhone (and in most cases the iPod Touch) that enhance medical care. This is just a sampling – many more can be found with a basic Google search, or by browsing iTunes.

CPR and Choking

This app was developed by physicians and educators in emergency care, specifically for first response to heart failure and choking incidents. There are short video demonstrations – an extremely useful tool when the responder is under stress – and the techniques are up-to-date with major international resuscitation organizations. Cost: free

iBP Blood Pressure

A useful tracking and analysis tool for anyone with blood pressure problems. All you have to do is enter the data; the program does the analysis for you, showing trend lines and colour-coded alerts for low, average and high blood pressure. Data can be emailed to your doctor. Cost: .99

Baby Motion

A single-function app for tracking baby’s movements during pregnancy. Whenever there is a movement, you open the program, touch the screen and it automatically records date and time for you – there is also the option of adding notes. Information can easily be forwarded to your doctor, by email. Cost: .99


An eye chart just like the one used by eye care professionals for testing visual acuity, except this one is placed four feet away, instead of 20 feet. Not as reliable as an official test, but a useful rough indicator. Cost: Free 


Many people with bladder problems say the sound of water running helps release their own faucet. ShyBladder includes three different sounds of running water, and is one of the better selling medical app’s. (Not available yet in Canada, for some reason.)

Pocket First Aid & CPR

Last time I looked, this was the top-selling app on iTunes – and for good reason. It helped save a life in Haiti. The program includes precise, up-to-date instructions on how to handle most any First Aid situation, often with video support. At $3.99, it’s one of the more expensive app’s on iTunes, but, if you ask Dan Woolley, it’s worth every penny.

Woolley is a filmmaker from Colorado Springs in the U.S. He was staying at the Hotel Montana in Port au Prince when the earthquake struck, and was immediately buried under tonnes of rubble. He was injured, bleeding, and trapped in a dark, confined space.

But Woolley kept his cool. His phone had no signal, but it did have the Pocket First Aid app pre-loaded and ready.

“I was bleeding a lot from my leg and the back of my head,” Woolley said, in an interview with NBC. “I had my iPhone with me… so I was able to look up treatment for excessive bleeding and compound fracture. I used my shirt to tie my leg and a sock on the back of my head.”

He also used the app to diagnose shock, and made himself stay awake by setting the phone’s alarm clock to ring every 20 minutes. Using light from his digital camera, he was able to survey his surroundings and crawl to an elevator shaft where, after 65 hours underground, he was finally rescued.

Tell that story, the next time some suggests your iPhone is a useless toy.

Geoff Meeker is a communications consultant with a soft spot for technology. He also writes a blog about the local media scene, which is hosted at


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