Alcohol Tracker is a smartphone app that lets users enter how many drinks they have each day. If a user drinks more than the maximum amount of alcohol recommended by certain health organizations, then the app will send a notification, warning that the recommended limit has been reached.
Developed by doctors in Singapore, the app is aimed at helping drinkers better manage their alcohol intake. Doctors developed it as a way to counteract the use of other apps that are set up like interactive drinking games, and promote drinking.
The developers noted that researchers have found that apps that promise to track users' blood alcohol content are highly unreliable. Alcohol Tracker app tracks a person's drinking habits on both a daily and weekly basis. Users simply tell the app how many beers, glasses of wine or shots they’ve consumed, and the app does the rest.
Since these different beverages contain varying amounts of alcohol, the app converts every drink into a certain number of alcohol "units," based on guidelines established by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence in the United Kingdom and the Canadian Network for Mood and Anxiety Treatments.
Most alcohol-consumption guidelines recommend different limits for men and women. The U.K.'s National Health Service (NHS) recommends that women have no more than 2 to 3 units of alcohol a day, which is roughly equivalent to about 6 ounces of wine a day. For men, the daily recommended maximum is 3 to 4 units, which is equivalent to 19 ounces, or less than two 12-ounce bottles of beer.
In addition to helping users track their alcohol intake, the new app also features links to resources that might help heavy drinkers cut back, such as the phone number for an alcohol help line. The app's developers also built in several tools aimed at helping users limit their consumption, including a questionnaire that helps people determine their risk of alcohol misuse.
Healthcare start-up called Theranos is slowly setting the stage to transform blood tests. Theranos is a Palo Alto, Calif.-based company that offers about 153 tests for under $10. Recently won FDA approval for their patented technology that performs complex medical tests using just a few drops, rather than a few vials, of blood.
Its first application extends to the company’s herpes simplex 1 test. While FDA approval isn't necessary to operate, the decision validates the result of Theranos founder, Elizabeth Holmes' decade-long research, which aims to replace the need for intravenous blood draws with a simple, painless finger stick. A bill the company co-sponsored in Arizona, where Theranos operates 42 wellness centers, was signed into law.
It allows state residents to pay for a lab test without requiring a doctor’s order or insurance company’s participation. Doctors don’t assume any liability for patients who choose to get tested on their own, and insurance companies are off the hook for payments, as the lab tests are paid for out of pocket. The company also just announced their expansion to Pennsylvania, where they're partnering with the state's largest health insurer to offer their lab services to policy members.
Two big reasons Americans should care about these new developments: If Theranos does successfully roll out their finger-stick blood tests in more than 8,000 Walgreens stores throughout the nation (as they plan to), it means that millions of Americans could have easy, convenient access to low-cost blood tests, without having to visit a doctor first.
This means that a person who is closely monitoring his cholesterol levels could pay just $2.99 -- half the Medicare rate -- to get his numbers without paying a doctor to order them first. It means a woman can know instantly whether she is pregnant, and whether her pregnancy hormone levels are rising as they should -- again, at about half the rate it would cost Medicare.
For example, Theranos tests for herpes viruses range from $9.07 to $13.30. While you’d still have to see a doctor for treatment, visiting a Walgreens Wellness Center cuts out an initial doctor visit and separate lab visit.
Theranos’ simple list of blood tests, as well as how much each one costs, could have the effect of forcing other labs and blood testing services to lower their own costs, or at least become more honest about why they cost so much more.
Like many other medical procedures in the U.S., the cost of blood work can vary hugely from laboratory to laboratory, and having health insurance doesn't seem to make a difference. A 2013 ABC News investigation found that a woman was charged more than $4,000 for blood work at an in-network facility, while the cost for the same battery of tests at an independent lab cost just $260.
If Theranos can bring down the price of blood tests, it could also lower the costs of the entire health care system. The transparency in pricing would have the effect of enticing doctors, clinics and labs to be more transparent and competitive.
Like all medical tests, there are downsides to over-testing, which include increased anxiety and more medical intervention in the case of a false positive result.
For people at low risk of disease, any positive test that you get is likely to be a false positive, and that patient will be exposed to anxiety and a whole lot more tests trying to pursue the positive result that probably doesn't mean anything. This goes for all kinds of tests -- mammograms in particular have a high false positive rate and expose women to all sorts of terrors as they pursue further testing. Divorcing blood tests from the initial doctor's visit and pre-authorization from a health insurance company resulted in lower costs for consumers, which means they are more accessible to people.
Overall, it's very good for patients to be able to get frequent, low-cost tests and not have to run for the doctor every time they want a test.