Nurse, the Screens!

23 June 2020

Want to improve your health? Reach for your phone. Today's big health-tech tools require little more than the smallest of screens

Our phones already double up as TVs, maps, cameras, wallets, address books and photo albums; this year they could pack in as much healthcare as a half-decent polyclinic.

From insomnia to mindfulness, some of the most innovative new health-tech developments require nothing more than an iPhone or Android handset. Take Senosis Health, a Seattle health-monitoring start-up that was bought by Google's parent company, Alphabet, back in 2017. Rather than develop new hardware to diagnose ailments, Senosis' suite of apps use conventional smartphone cameras, microphones and processors to identify a range of conditions, from anaemia to cystic fibrosis.

Beddit, meanwhile, is a sleep-monitoring firm that was also acquired by a tech giant in the last year – Apple, in this case. Its principal offering is an 8cm-wide band that fits under your bed sheets and records your sleep patterns. The band and accompanying smartphone app monitor sleep time, efficiency, heart rate, breathing, snoring, room temperature and more, to help users get a better night's sleep.

The new iQ device, from US health-tech firm Butterfly, is a little more clinical; it is a handheld ultrasound device that costs less than $2,000 and plugs straight into your handset. Although sales are limited to healthcare professionals for now, its developers hope that a consumer version of the gadget will make it on to the market shortly.

If all this sounds a little overwhelming, perhaps you should try Spire, a pebble-shaped tracker that clips onto a waistband or bra and tracks the user's activity and breathing patterns to help reduce stress. The accompanying app reports back on the user's performance, offering both notifications as well as breathing exercises and other, psychologically positive insights. That may not beat one-to-one talking therapies, but the prospect of reliable medical diagnosis all a touchscreen away is in itself a reason to be cheerful, no?

Alex Rayner works for the fine-art publishers Phaidon, co-edits the art and fashion biennial Supplement, and contributes to The Guardian.

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