5 Free Apps That Could Save Your Life

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Worried about a drug allergy? E. coli outbreak? Heart attack? Cancer? Sprained ankle? These apps have got you covered – even if you don't have a smartphone.

Doctors’ desks used to be stacked with must-have guides with names like Physicians’ Desk Reference and Monthly Prescribing Reference. But nowadays, more and more doctors are ditching all the paper pages for one little tablet.

Tablet computer use has nearly doubled over the past year, according to a recent study. But apps are transforming health care for patients as much as they are for doctors – if not more.

Mobile technology has empowered us to take care of our own health like never before. If knowledge is power, life-saving knowledge is life-saving power – and these five free apps literally put it at your fingertips…

1. Epocrates’ Rx

Rx is supposedly the most-downloaded drug reference app among doctors. It includes drug information and identification details as well as drug interactions, the feature that makes the app indispensable for anyone who takes prescription or even over-the-counter medications.

Many drugs interact with (meaning they react to) certain other drugs or even with certain foods or drinks, sometimes with life-threatening results. Other drugs can’t be taken by people with certain medical conditions. So if your doctor or pharmacist forgets to warn you – which unfortunately happens all the time – an app like Rx could save your life.

2. Azumio Inc.’s Instant Heart Rate

This heart rate monitor app won the “Heath & Medicine” category in the 2011 Mobile Premier Awards, which are judged by industry experts. It uses your phone’s camera to take your heart rate (the number of times your heart beats per minute, or bpm) within seconds. The app even tells you whether your heart rate is low (green), average (yellow), or high (red) – the last of which could be a sign of a medical problem.

3. USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service’s Ask Karen

Worried you’ll take home the next E. coli-coated head of lettuce or Salmonella-soaked mango without realizing it? Fortunately, so is Uncle Sam – and Aunt Karen. The Department of Agriculture designed this app to answer your food safety questions while you’re at the grocery store, in your kitchen, or wherever. You can even live chat with a food safety expert on weekdays between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. EST.

4. EPA’s UV Index

Remember when we told you 20 percent of us will develop skin cancer at some point in our life, and two million Americans are diagnosed with some form of the cancer each year? Well, the bad news is that’s still true.

The good news is that the Environmental Protection Agency’s app has made it a little easier to escape those statistics. While nothing fancy, it’s a mobile-friendly version of EPA.gov’s UV Index tool, which tells you – on a scale of 1 to 11-plus – when to be extra wary of the sun. Because as the FDA warns, even on an overcast day, up to 80 percent of the sun’s carcinogenic ultraviolet rays can penetrate the clouds.

5. American Red Cross’ First Aid

I learned about this app from Money Talks News’ in-house tech guru, Dan Schointuch, although he’s escaped the misfortune of needing to use it yet. I like having it in case of emergency while I’m hiking (cell signals are spotty to nil in the Everglades), but this app is as indispensable as a first aid kit no matter who you are or where you hang out. From cooking burns to heart attacks, the step-by-step instructions with pictures and videos should keep you calm and just may save your life.

Karla Bowsher worked in health care for 10 years before going into journalism. She covers health, consumer, and retail issues. If you have a comment, suggestion, or question, leave a comment or contact her at [email protected].

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