Holiday traditions vary from family to family, but there's one ritual that's universal.
"Everyone comes together with the flu, sits around and makes each other sick," physician Peter Hudson says.
Hudson is CEO of iTriage, a mobile app (also available at Itriagehealth.com) that is one of the most popular products in the emerging mobile health -- or mHealth -- market.
With more than 8 million downloads, iTriage has tapped into something people want. It's a combination of a symptom tracker (with information reviewed by Harvard Medical School) and a virtual yellow pages, directing users to nearby doctors, hospitals, pharmacies and more.
"We've heard hundreds of stories of people saving time, money and lives," says Hudson, noting that the top searches each December are for upper respiratory infections and depression.
It's something to keep in mind if you open up a smartphone on Christmas morning and find yourself in need of a trip to the emergency room later in the day.
The mHealth Summit earlier this month at National Harbor near Washington showcased several other smartphone applications designed to track your behaviors, encourage better habits and generally improve well-being.
The self-proclaimed "World's Funnest Energy Tracker" really is fun. The cartoony interface helps keep tabs on sleep, exercise and nutrition. (Were you an "awful" eater today? Tap the plate of junk food.) Daily tips aim to boost results over time.
With a concept inspired by Foursquare, this app lets you "check into" healthy behaviors. Your actions translate into "Munch," "Move" and "Mind" points, weighted based on your current health. Use those numbers to compete with friends.
Keep your medications straight with this virtual pillbox that sends reminders and helps track what you've taken. For now, good behavior is rewarded with games, but the app plans to offer coupons, rebates and other prizes eventually.
Santa knows if you've been bad or good -- and, now, so does Weight Watchers. The diet program just introduced its members to Weight Watchers 360°, an app designed to be a constant companion. Not only does it track food (with the help of a bar code scanner and a "Snap & Track" feature that lets you photograph a meal and assign a point value later), but it also focuses on your environment, says Catherine Ulrich, senior vice president of WeightWatchers.com.
A "Spaces" function considers where you are (home, traveling, etc.) and your options, and offers "Panic Moment" advice. "Routines" helps you commit to small steps (such as eating breakfast).
Add it all together, and that smartphone can connect you to long-term success.
Eye on the future
Google has hired author, inventor and futurist Ray Kurzweil as director of engineering. Kurzweil, whose latest book, "How to Create a Mind," is a current bestseller, is also a software designer. Among his inventions is a print-to-speech reading machine for the blind. On his website, the Queens-born Kurzweil, 64, says his goal at Google is to help turn "the next decade's 'unrealistic' visions into reality."
Tweets from the past
Twitter is rolling out a feature allowing users to get a file containing an archive of every tweet they've ever posted. Twitter said it is testing the feature with a small number of users before implementing it systemwide. The option to download the tweets' archive will appear on a user's "settings" page.
Texting while driving is a documented problem, but texting while walking may also pose a safety hazard. Nearly one in three pedestrians observed at high-risk intersections by University of Washington researchers were involved in a distracting activity. Pedestrians texting while crossing the street were four times more likely to ignore traffic lights or fail to look both ways compared to undistracted walkers.
-- PETER KING