6 Awesome Health Apps for Virtual Care

Plan a family, share a symptom with a doctor remotely, do an EKG reading at home, and more.

by Amy Marturana Winderl Health Writer

In 2021, it seems truer than ever that there's an app for everything—including one to cover every aspect of your health and well-being. Countless “bring the doctor to you” platforms have launched over the past few years, and the pandemic has only solidified the need for telehealth and remote healthcare. So, these apps are likely here to stay.

Tech companies have more than met the moment, building and harnessing artificial intelligence (AI) and high-tech algorithms to collect, track, and analyze all types of health data, from heart rhythms to sleep stages to menstrual cycles. Beyond just capturing stats, good personal health apps also teach you a thing or two about what your numbers might mean, and how you can use them to boost your health.

Still, it’s important to keep in mind that health apps are not stand-ins for a doctor. “Don’t ever let the knowledge these apps give you substitute actual medical care,” says Vivek Cherian, M.D., a Baltimore-based internal medicine physician. “Dr. Google or Dr. XYZ App is never a replacement for a medical professional.” But, when used in conjunction with professional medical care, they can help you see the bigger picture and spot new trends or patterns. “If an app highlights something of concern, then use that information to communicate proactively with your healthcare provider,” he recommends.

Also, be sure to always read up on the privacy terms and learn how your personal data is being shared and stored, Dr. Cherian advises. Some apps may not require as much security—but any time you’re sharing sensitive health information on an electronic device, it should either be encrypted or HIPPA-compliant. Ideally, both. So read the fine print.

And, once you do, check out these six great apps that make it easy to help manage your personal health:

Therapy From the Privacy of Your Home

App Name: BetterHelp

Available: On iOS and Android devices

What It Costs: $60 to $90 per week (billed every four weeks) based on your location, preferences, and therapist availability.

What It Does: BetterHelp matches you to a licensed counselor in its network that’s a good fit for your preferences, objectives, and mental health needs. Counselors are either accredited psychologists (Ph.D. or Psy.D.), marriage and family therapists (L.M.F.T.), clinical social workers (L.C.S.W. or L.M.S.W.), or licensed professional counselors (L.P.C.), so you know you’ll be matched with someone who is qualified to help.

Once you’re matched with a counselor, you can exchange messages (sending and responding to them on your own time) or schedule live chats, phone calls, or video sessions. You’ll work with your counselor directly to schedule live sessions for times that work for you both.

Screening: All counselors are vetted to ensure they’re certified by their state’s professional licensing boards and have at least three years and 1,000 hours of clinical therapy experience. They also have to pass an exam and do a video interview before they can be accepted onto BetterHelp.

How It Helps: “Teletherapy apps are essential during this time of 'echo pandemic,' in which mental health is on a decline and suicide rates are soaring,” says private psychotherapist Haley Neidich, L.C.S.W., who provides online therapy to clients in Florida and Connecticut. “There is a massive lack of access to mental health care services in the U.S., even before COVID-19 hit, so teletherapy increased the necessary access to those in need. Anyone who is struggling with their mental health at this time will likely benefit from using a mental health app for online counseling.”

Drawbacks: “Online counseling through apps does tend to be most helpful for people who are looking for general support, as many of the counselors are therapist generalists,” Neidich explains. You may have a hard time finding someone who specializes in the exact thing you need help with. For example, people looking for treatment for PTSD or OCD would probably find more success working with a counselor privately who specializes in those diagnoses, Neidich says.

Also, it’s important to note that online therapy is not the best choice for people with severe and chronic mental health conditions, severe eating disorders, psychosis, or active suicidal or homicidal thinking, she adds.

Sleep Monitoring That Tracks Your REMs

App Name: SleepScore

Available: On iOS and Android devices

What It Costs: Premium version costs $49.99 yearly or $7.99 monthly; basic version is free. For $149.99, you can also buy a SleepScore Max, a stand-alone sensor that sits on your bedside table to record more precisely your breathing and movement during sleep.

What It Does: The company makes big promises, saying its sonar technology—which was developed with research from the medical device company ResMed in tandem with scientists at the University of Washington—can track your breathing and movements throughout the night. It assesses the stages and duration of sleep by monitoring your ZZZs with your smartphone’s speakers and microphone, including the time it takes to fall asleep, time spent in deep sleep, time spent in REM sleep, and the number of times you wake up throughout the night.

Then, using a proprietary data algorithm, the app calculates this data to give you a “sleep score.” Your sleep score—the max is 100—reveals your overall quality of sleep. Each morning, you’ll get your SleepScore, as well as a MindScore and BodyScore, too. MindScore is based on how much REM sleep you got, which plays an important role in creative thinking, problem solving, and emotional processing. Your BodyScore is based on how much deep sleep you clocked, which is what helps you feel restored and rested the next day.

How It Helps: Quality sleep is key for good health. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, lack of sleep can make it harder to focus, react, and judge other people’s emotions, and increase your risk of various health conditions including obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and kidney disease.

Gathering sleep data to show your doctor is a good idea if you’re concerned about how much you’re getting. “Apps that monitor sleep quality and patterns certainly can help physicians make further recommendations regarding lifestyle or even possibly refer a patient for a sleep study,” Dr. Cherian says.

Drawbacks: SleepScore's contactless sleep tracking technology shows a lot of promise in helping people glean insights about their sleep from their breathing patterns, but it isn't a perfect exchange for a study in a sleep lab that monitors brain activity while you snooze.

A few logistical downsides: The technology only works with iPhone 6 and higher and a selection of newer Android phones. And, using SleepScore requires you to have your phone on your bedside table. (Even if you buy the SleepScore Max, it still requires your phone’s microphone.)

A Personal Assistant to Remind You When to Take Your Meds

App Name: Medisafe

Available: On iOS and Android devices

What It Costs: The basic version is free; premium version costs $4.99 monthly or $39.99 yearly and includes unlimited Medfriends (explained below), unlimited family and friend profiles, and more.

What It Does: Having trouble keeping track of all your medications? Medisafe allows you to schedule all of your medications into a calendar, and then sends you personalized reminders to take them when you need to. You’ll also get a notification when you’re running low and when to call the pharmacy for a refill. It also offers some education, letting you know if any of your medications shouldn’t be taken together because of a possible drug interaction.

Best Feature: The family scheduling features make it easy for parents and caregivers to keep tabs on loved ones that might need a little help remembering to take their medications—once you’re added as someone’s Medfriend, you’ll get real-time notifications if they accidentally miss a dose, so you can call or send a text to remind them.

How It Helps: “For some of my patients, particularly the elderly, it’s not uncommon to be prescribed over 10 medications,” Dr. Cherian says. “That can be challenging for anyone to remember how frequently you need to take your prescriptions.” An app like Medisafe can make it easier to remember taking meds as prescribed, and can reduce a person’s risk of having health complications, Dr. Cherian adds.

Drawbacks: Medications have to be entered manually, so it requires a little upfront work to get everything set up. And if your prescriptions change, you’ll have to update them accordingly. The effectiveness also relies on the user’s ability to use the app and mark off when they do take their medications, which can make this unrealistic for older adults or people who are not as tech-savvy.

Cycle-Tracking for Menstruation and Ovulation

App Name: Glow

Available: On iOS and Android devices

What It Costs: Basic version is free; premium costs $47.99 yearly or $7.99 monthly (and includes comparative insights on symptoms, fertility information, and private messaging with other Glow users).

What It Does: Cycle-tracking can help you guess when you’re ovulating, which can help with family planning (though it has limitations). By logging your period and symptoms throughout your cycle, Glow helps predict when you’re ovulating and when to expect your period each month. By entering other factors like your exercise levels, mood, alcohol intake, and sex drive, you can start to learn how all of these things are connected to (and may influence or be influenced by) your cycle.

How It Helps: A period-tracking app can be a powerful tool to make you aware of your reproductive health, sleep habits, and stress levels—regardless of whether or not you’re trying to get pregnant, Dr. Cherian says. Whether you’re experiencing symptoms like painful periods or you want to start trying to get pregnant but have no idea when you ovulate, knowing how long your cycle is and whether or not it's regular can be a good jumping off point to talk with your doctor.

Drawbacks: The ability of cycle-tracking apps to accurately guess fertility windows has been questioned. One 2018 study published in the journal Current Medical Research and Opinion found that tracking apps were no better than 21% accurate at predicting ovulation. One thing that may help? Keeping tabs on your cervical mucus. Changes in cervical mucus is a good predictor of ovulation. Glow has a section for you to track this, in addition to other symptoms, to help get a better overall picture of your menstrual cycle that’s not just based on dates on a calendar.

Remote Urgent Care When It’s Serious (but Not an Emergency)

App Name: HealthTap

Available: On iOS and Android devices

What It Costs: Basic version is free. To use the app for one-on-one telemedicine appointments, you have two options. If you don’t have (or don’t want to use) health insurance, you can pay $15 per month for a subscription that gets you $30 urgent care visits and $40 primary care visits. You can also use HealthTap with your health insurance for urgent care visits. In this scenario, you don’t have to pay a monthly fee, and each individual visit will cost you either $80 (or your insurance copay amount, if lower).

What It Does: OK, so, you know you’re not supposed to Google your symptoms, but sometimes it’s impossible to resist. Next time you’re tempted, HealthTap provides a better option. The free version lets you post anonymous questions that a doctor will respond to within a few hours, and gives you access to a symptom checker.

Or, set up a virtual urgent care and primary care visit with a board-certified doctor. During your appointment, you can share photos or other files that may help your doctor treat you better. Your HealthTap doctor can also prescribe you medications or order lab tests as needed.

Screening: All doctors are vetted and confirmed to be board-certified, licensed in their state, and go through a special training program with HealthTap to make sure they’re set up to give online care.

How It Helps: It can be hard to get in to see a doctor quickly when you have a semi-urgent issue—like a spiking fever, for example—that doesn’t necessarily warrant an ER visit. It’s also a tricky time to see a doc (an estimated 41% of U.S. adults have delayed or avoided medical care in the last year because of COVID-19, according to the CDC). Knowing you can see an urgent care doctor within minutes of requesting an appointment, or a primary care doctor within just a few hours, can give you some much needed peace of mind.

Drawbacks: HealthTap currently does not offer specialty care or mental health care. Also HealthTap Primary Care is not yet available in Massachusetts or Alaska, though the company notes that it’s coming to these areas soon. Like any other telemedicine service, HealthTap doctors may not be able to prescribe or refill certain medications (including certain psychiatric drugs, opioids, and other controlled substances) virtually.

Afib Detection for People With Heart Arrhythmias

App Name: Kardia

Available: On iOS and Android devices

What It Costs: Basic version is free; premium costs $99.99 per year or $9.99 per month and has additional features including a monthly heart health report, one EKG review every 90 days by a board-certified cardiologist, and the ability to detect a wider range of arrhythmias. (More info on what that means.) With the free version, you can pay for a clinician review of an EKG for $25 each time. With either app, you’ll need to also buy the actual EKG device. The basic KardiaMobile, a single-lead EKG, is $89. The more advanced six-lead EKG, KardiaMobile 6L, is $149.

What It Does: The Kardia EKG device and app work together to read your heart rhythm and instantly let you know if your heartbeat is normal or atrial fibrillation (Afib) is detected. Kardia offers two device options for different price points, one that relies on you holding your fingertips to two finger pads that read your heart rhythm electronically with a single-lead reading.

The other, more sophisticated device is two-sided, requiring two fingers on pads, plus a third pad point on the opposite side pressed up to your ankle or thigh. It offers a six-lead reading, which is almost as sophisticated (but not quite) as an in-person EKG. It takes about 30 seconds for the sensors to read your heart beat and record it in the Kardia app.

Your data will be stored, and you can either download and email a PDF of the reading to your doctor, or have it assessed by a Kardia-affiliated cardiologist.

How It Helps: According to the CDC, Afib is the most common heart rhythm disorder and is associated with a four- to five-fold increased risk of ischemic stroke. It can also lead to heart failure, chronic fatigue, and other heart rhythm problems. It’s crucial to treat and manage this arrhythmia to avoid these risks, but first, you need a proper diagnosis. An EKG is a safe and simple way to take a look at the heart’s electrical activity, and can alert you and your doctor if something seems off.

Drawbacks: Kardia isn’t FDA-approved to detect all heart rhythms and abnormalities, Dr. Cherian notes. Kardia has algorithms cleared by the FDA to give EKG results of normal, bradycardia, tachycardia, or possible atrial fibrillation.

Overall, Kardia can be a great tool to alert you if something may be awry. But it’s not perfect. You can get a “possible atrial fibrillation reading” for a benign arrhythmia called premature atrial contractions (PACs), which can cause undue alarm (but should still always be checked out by your cardiologist).

And, “if you have shortness of breath, feel palpitations, and/or feel your heart is racing, but your device does not indicate anything is going on, you should not be reassured,” Dr. Cherian says. “If you are having concerning symptoms, regardless of whether your device alerts you, you should seek immediate medical care.”

Amy Marturana Winderl
Meet Our Writer
Amy Marturana Winderl

Amy is a freelance journalist and certified personal trainer. She covers a wide range of health topics, including fitness, health conditions, mental health, sexual and reproductive health, nutrition, and more. Her work has appeared on SELF, Bicycling, Health, and other publications. When she's not busy writing or editing, you can find her hiking, cooking, running, or lounging on the couch watching the latest true crime show on Netflix.