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The doctor is in your mobile phone

By Yin Yeping (Global Times)

13:53, May 22, 2013

The Mobile Health Care Device (Shouji Kanbingqi, free, Chinese only) purports to detect illness through tongue color and shape. While apps such as this offer medical advice, they aren't CFDA regulated. (Photo: Li Hao/GT)

Beijing businessman Chen Xi, 38, knew something was wrong with his heart.

"Sometimes it beats so fast that I can feel it," he said.

Naturally, Chen went to the doctor, but he checked out just fine. Not satisfied with the result, he downloaded a free mobile application called Check Your Heartbeat (available in Chinese and English) onto his iPhone and took matters into his own hands. He began regularly using the app - which tests the rhythm of blood filling the capillaries in your finger using the phone's built-in camera and flash - and discovered that his heartbeat varied widely, sometimes clocking in at about 60 beats a minute, and other times up to 150 - the times that he felt sick.

Armed with this extra data, Chen went to see his doctor again and got a new diagnosis - an arrhythmia.

"Because it's intermittent, it didn't show up when I saw the doctor the first time," he said. He has more faith in these little helpers on his mobile than before.

For Chen, a mobile app proved to be a lifesaver. A search through any of the app stores will yield thousands of health care related apps purporting to save your life, shrink your waistline or diagnose your illness. Check Your Heartbeat has more than 50,000 downloads. But these apps can be just as misleading as they are helpful, and they raise questions of responsibility, regulations and privacy.

And while an app helped Chen, industry insiders are quick to point out that these apps should be seen as jumping off points for treatment, not the final word. Gao Lei, a designer who specializes in making health-centric apps, said these products should be thought of as akin to a thermometer, not a doctor.

"The testing results from these applications are not to be considered as equal to the opinion of a doctor since it's unofficial and not accurate," Gao said.

Indeed, Chen, while pleased with the aid in pinpointing his health problem, said, "I will still see doctors when I get sick."

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