AMITIAE - Wednesday 23 March 2016

A Selection of Heart Monitoring Apps for the iPhone (Bangkok Post, Life)

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By Graham K. Rogers


I looked recently at iPhone health-monitoring apps that enable users to record data that can then be analysed, either for display on a smartphone, for sharing with others, or for onward transmission to medical experts. A considerable number of apps are currently in development for patient-doctor communication and monitoring: the quicker health experts see the warning signs, the faster help can be administered.

I am aware that I am overweight. My diet and exercise regimen do little to protect me. However, I can monitor some important input, such as heart-rate. The Apple Watch has assisted me in this but some iPhone apps can also do this. I recently looked at the useful Argus app. This time I focus on apps that specifically monitor the heart. I selected the apps here at random: there are many more.

Heart Rate Free

This free app is by the same developer as Argus and the measurement method is identical. It opens with a 4-screen introduction although some of that asks users to sign up. In the Settings is a link to the Argus app which it recognised as being installed. There is also a link to Apple Health, so data can be added. The developer, Azumio, has a Pro version ($2.99) that includes workout training programs. If all that is needed is a check of the heart rate, this will suffice, but the Argus app has more data types.

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Heart Rate

There are a number of apps under the Runtastic banner, but I am focussing here on the Runtastic Heart Rate Monitor, Heart Beat & Pulse Tracker which does the job quite adequately, but with limits.

When first started it asks users to sign in using social networking links or to register (free). This is persistent. It is possible to bypass this, although the app indicates there are additional benefits and features on the Runtastic site. A 3-screen introduction shows how the app works and records data. Even with this (and the experience of Argus), it took a couple of tries. While it was recording there was a graph display of the heart beat.

Compared with the Apple Watch and Argus, this app provided a realistic result. In settings, I was able to add this data to the heart monitoring panel. Also in settings were links to other apps by the same developer (e.g. Six Pack, Road Bike), to the Runtastic Store and an upgrade to the Pro app ($1.99): the free version only allows three measurements a day; the Pro app allows notifications; and there are no advertisements.

Heart monitoring Heart monitoring Heart monitoring

Heart Rate Monitor

This app hit the ground running: the camera flash was working as soon as I opened the app and it opened at the Monitoring page. A tap on the screen and it began to detect the pulse rate again using the finger. The results were as expected and I was able to save or share with a selection of installed apps, but not Apple Health.

Heart Beat

The app behaves quite well opening with the measurement page and identifying the finger every time. Although a graph is shown during the measurement, this does not appear to be a true representation. There is no sharing or history (the Pro app is needed) but the figure produced is reasonably accurate.

HB Free

Like the other apps I am examining, this is free and takes heart data using the camera: the user places the finger over the lens while the app records and analyses after a brief calibration. Like Heart Beat Counter (below) this app did not identify the finger every time and needed some care to make this work. The accuracy when recording was within an acceptable range. The app records the user's history and is able to sync data with social networking sites, but not the Apple Health App.

Heart monitoring Heart monitoring Heart monitoring

HeartBeat Counter Free

Although this app is free, there is an in-app purchase of $0.99 bringing it to Pro version status. There are two options. With Manual a user must count the heartbeats. When I found my pulse, I pressed the button and counted a few beats. I then had to enter the number and the app calculated the heart rate.

The Automatic option was simpler. I placed my finger over the lens. The flash light came on. The app reported problems taking a reading (finger pressure, movement, not covering lens and flash. I was only able to make this work sometimes. It seemed too fiddly, although the graph of inputs and history were of some value. I tried several times over the next few days and finally managed to record data. Basic information was sufficient, but there were no additional features, like data synchronisation.

None of these apps improved on the Argus app, which not only offers more ways to monitor but also offers a reasonable graph of the heart beat.

It will be interesting to see how developers and medical professionals make use of the new xxxKit and the updated ResearchKit for patient monitoring.

Graham K. Rogers teaches at the Faculty of Engineering, Mahidol University in Thailand. He wrote in the Bangkok Post, Database supplement on IT subjects. For the last seven years of Database he wrote a column on Apple and Macs. He is now continuing that in the Bangkok Post supplement, Life.



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