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Health gadgets that really work

Many new devices measure your every move. Here’s what’s worth your money.

Published: August 15, 2014 03:00 PM

The modern health-monitoring device craze started with pedometers that simply tracked the number of steps you took in a day. Now there are hundreds of gadgets that you can slap on your wrist or tuck into your pocket. They sync to your smart phone and track everything from blood pressure and calories burned to how stressed you are or how well you slept last night.

But how effective are those gadgets when it comes to keeping you healthy? “That’s the big question,” Steven Steinhubl, M.D., a cardiologist and director of the digital medicine program at Scripps Health in La Jolla, Calif., said. He says published research shows that some devices on the market still have kinks to iron out. For example, one lets you take a photo of a skin lesion with your smart phone and tells you whether it’s cancerous. But it got the diagnosis wrong a third of the time.

The devices that experts say are most useful right now are those that help monitor common, chronic conditions. For example, a study at the University of Florida found that home blood pressure monitors and blood glucose meters gave doctors valuable information to help them treat people with hyper­tension and diabetes. The devices also helped patients get more involved in their own care.

And in a study published in the Annals of Thoracic Surgery, older patients recovering from heart surgery wore activity trackers—devices that count steps taken and calories burned. The patients who took the most steps early on had shorter hospital stays. The researchers concluded that trackers might motivate patients to move more after surgery, which can speed recovery.

Trying to add more steps to your day? Check out the top treadmills for every budget, our elliptical buying guide, and information on exercise bikes and spin bikes.

What follows are four health-monitoring devices that we’ve found to be accurate in our tests. All cost $100 or less and can be synced to your computer, smart phone, or both, though sometimes that requires buying other software. They’re available at online retailers such as Amazon.com and Target, and elsewhere.

Blood pressure monitor

What it does: Allows you to track and store your blood pressure and heart-rate results on your iPhone or iPad and to share the information with your doctor. It also offers an irregular-heartbeat detector and a blood pressure risk indicator.

Best for: Older adults, whose blood pressure can vary; people whose blood pressure tends to spike when tested in a doctor’s office (white-coat hypertension), people with diabetes, for whom blood pressure monitoring is important.

Blood glucose meter

What it does: Stores up to 500 readings of your blood glucose levels and calculates averages over time. Users can flag their results as pre- or post-meal for reference.

Best for: People with type 1 or type 2 diabetes who take insulin.

Activity tracker

What it does: Counts steps, logs calories, monitors sleep, and tells you how close you are to meeting daily health goals. It also has a clock and an alarm.

Best for: People who want a motivational tool to help them become more active.

—Sue Byrne

Low-tech tracker

This no-frills pedometer, the Sportline 345 Step, Distance & Calorie, doesn’t sync to other devices. But it’s easy to use, its tested accuracy was excellent, and it costs just $13.  


Editor's Note:

This article also appeared in the September 2014 issue of Consumer Reports on Health.


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Blood pressure monitors Ratings

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Blood glucose meters Ratings

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Pedometers Ratings

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