5 health tools to keep in the house
First, it was a new thermometer, with a battery and display. Later, a blood pressure cuff showed up. I noticed a pulse oximeter on the nightstand once the pandemic started, and recently I saw an ad for a blood sugar monitor that implied that everyone should have one, regardless of whether you have diabetes.
What else do I need? Should I keep an AED, or automated external defibrillator, handy, in case one of us experiences sudden cardiac arrest?
In an age when we can buy a home version for just about everything, what is the most important medical technology to have at home?
A lot depends on your medical status, says Ihab Aziz, MD, family medicine specialist at Mount Sinai Hospital.
For example, someone with atrial fibrillation (A-fib) or arrhythmia could benefit from a smartphone-compatible home EKG monitor that sends information directly to their doctor. But, Aziz says, “You don’t need a defibrillator at home. The defibrillator saves lives when it’s in a football stadium or a shopping mall, but no studies have shown that having it at home is making a difference as far as saving lives.”
Because eye injuries often happen at home, I contacted Ben Ticho, MD, associate professor of ophthalmology at the University of Illinois Eye & Ear Infirmary, to see if he had any recommendations for tools to keep on hand.
“The biggest advance to emergency eye care is people sending really high-quality photos to doctors,” he says.
Here are the basic medical items for you to have at home, according to these experts. Aziz emphasizes that if you have a heart condition, severe allergies, diabetes, or any other chronic issues, you should speak with your doctor about the best equipment for you.
1. Contactless infrared thermometer
Almost no one uses mercury thermometers that you have to put under your tongue or in the rectum [for babies], Aziz says. “The[se] are all quite accurate. They are very easy to use.”
2. Digital blood pressure monitor
Because home readings create a more accurate picture of the day, the recommendation now is to diagnose hypertension according to home readings, not in the office, Aziz says. “All of [the monitors] are accurate and inexpensive,” he says. Take it to your doctor’s office, and calibrate it with the machine there.
3. Pulse oximeter
The general population may not need this, but if you have asthma or any heart or lung issues, being able to check your oxygen levels can offer reassurance or let you know it’s time to seek help.
4. Cell phone with a good camera
This will enable you to easily send photos of injuries to your provider. “You can’t do better than a good cell phone camera. Put the flashlight on, and use the magnification. You can get a really good picture,” Ticho says. “I can’t see everything, but I can advise if the patient needs to go to the hospital.”
5. Over-the-counter eye wash
This is key if something gets in your eye. “Ideally you can pour the eye wash over your eye in a constant stream, and flush out anything in there,” Ticho says.
On building your own home medical kit, Aziz suggests talking to your doctor about your specific health needs.
“I think a lot of people would like to have a nice gadget. They think it is healthier,” he says. “Just be sure to know how to use it.”
For example, if you put the wrong finger into your pulse oximeter or you’re wearing nail polish, your readings can be inaccurate.
As I look at my own gadget collection, I intend to heed Aziz’s cautions: Read all the instructions, practice, and pay more attention to what these gadgets tell me.
Originally published in the Spring/Summer 2023 print issue.