Way back when iOS 3.0 was introduced we were promised loads of plug-in accessories that would do wonderful things for us. Apart from the odd loudspeaker, I had not stumbled across anything particularly interesting until this week. Lurking on a bottom shelf at the Covent Garden Apple store was a large Withings blood pressure monitor box. Since I need to keep an eye on my BP, this combination of a professional-looking device and a 30-pin iOS connector pressed all the right buttons.
Despite the hefty price of £119.95—about twice what you would pay for a good-quality standalone cuff monitor—I think you get value for money from this French company. First impression when you open the box is the size of the thing. It is about twice as large as the average cuff or wrist BP monitor you’d buy from the local pharmacy. Second impression is the quality. This is one well-made device with perforated faux leather exterior and a bright green soft-fabric interior.
The measuring gubbins sits in a simple 6in-long aluminium tube, a bit like a fat version of the battery holder on a wireless keyboard. It’s 1.4in diameter so the whole monitor is much bigger and heavier, at about 1.25 pounds, than you would imagine. This substantial build instils confidence and is fine for home use. I’m not sure, however, that I would casually throw it in my luggage when travelling.
Set up is simplicity itself. Unlock your iPhone and plug in the monitor. Immediately you’ll get a message advising you that the device needs a free companion app and you are taken straight to the App Store for download. All you do then is follow the instructions in the accompanying leaflet to strap on the monitor above the elbow, position the arm so the device is level with the heart, and press start on the app screen. There are no controls, nor display, on the monitor itself. So don’t buy it unless you own an iPhone or iPod touch.
The monitor then does its stuff and records the results. As an alternative, you can choose a mode which takes three measurements and averages them. This is probably a good idea since I’ve found that home-measured blood pressure can vary considerably over a short period.
The leaflet contains some useful advice on what constitutes high blood pressure, based on coloured bands for various states from optimal pressure to severe hypertension. These colours are used as a sort of traffic light on the iPhone app to alert you to any abnormalities. As Withings point out, the readings are only a guide and you shouldn’t jump to any conclusions or, worse, attempt self medication. A visit to the doctor, perhaps before starting regular monitoring, is a good idea.
The Withings app prompts you to set up a free account which is synchronised automatically. You can view your results at the withings.com web site where you can also gain useful medical information relating to hypertension and take part in the Withings forum.
If you have set up a Google Health account (which is a straightforward affair if you possess a Google address) you can import your Withings results¹ simply by entering your Withings account details into Google Health. Google Health allows you to input details of current medication, tests, procedures and general health information and Withings offers an automatic way of adding daily data which you probably wouldn’t manage manually.
For anyone over a certain age who wishes, or needs, to keep a check on blood pressure over the months and years, the Withings monitor is the ideal solution. The results can be a good guide for doctors because they are aware that in-surgery blood pressure readings are often inflated because of the so-called white coat syndrome. Regular home readings, taken when you are relaxed and nowhere near a white coat, can be a useful adjunct to professional medical tests.
As I mentioned earlier, the Smart Blood Pressure Monitor costs £119.95 from the Apple Store. I did a quick check and found it on Amazon at the same price, but it is possible you could find it cheaper if you look around.
Withings also offer a scale with BMI indicator and this also links to the iPhone. Data is input into the same Withings app and onwards to Google Health. I’ve ordered one from Amazon and will report on it later.
¹ After posting this I discovered that the Withings/Google Health connection is limited at the moment to readings from the body scale. The blood pressure monitor (which is a newer product) is not in the list. However, after some 30 minutes the blood pressure readings did appear in Google Health, so all is well.