There’s no substitute for proper medical care, but with the right app, your smartphone or tablet can be a helpful assistant when you or a loved one has a health problem. Here are four to consider. Just be sure to download and learn how to use them before you need them. 

iTriage

Imagine: You or one of your loved one is experiencing an unusual health symptom. Should you make an appointment with your primary care physician or see a specialist? Should you go to the emergency room, and if so, which one?

The iTriage app was created by two emergency room physicians to help people make smart medical decisions like these. In an emergency you can use iTriage to find the closest hospital, urgent care clinic or pharmacy.

The app also allows you to search symptoms, research medications and track your personal health history on the go. At home, you can access your account on the iTriage website.

iTriage is free and available for Apple and Android devices. 

iTriage app screenshot (Photo: Michael Franco) 

CPR Tempo

The American Heart Association (AHA) offers two simple instructions for bystanders if an adult or teen is in cardiac arrest: 1) Call 911 and 2) push hard and fast on the center of the victim’s chest. This emergency technique, called Hands-Only CPR, is most effective at a rate of 100 compressions per minute. Here’s where the CPR Tempo app comes in handy. It plays tones at 100 beats per minute to help a person doing Hands-Only CPR keep pace.

Downloading the app isn’t a replacement for emergency training, but it will help you perform Hands-Only CPR as effectively as possible. (Note that the AHA does not recommend Hands-Only CPR for infants, children or drowning victims.)

CPR Tempo also features a timer with customizable intervals for giving epinephrine to someone with a severe allergy.

CPR Tempo is free for Apple devices. A similar free app for Android is CPR Metronome.

CPR Tempo app screenshot (Photo: Michael Franco) 

The Merck Manual — Home Edition

Based on the bestselling The Merck Manual, this app puts a trustworthy medical reference at your fingertips. It’s self-contained, meaning you don’t need mobile reception or Wi-Fi to use it. Wherever you are you can access information to help you communicate more effectively with your doctors, prepare for appointments and learn about medical conditions, procedures and tests.

The Home Edition is written in non-technical language for the general public, but there’s also a Professional edition for people with medical training. Both versions are updated regularly.

The Merck Manual — Home Edition is $9.99 for Apple

merck app screenshot (Photo: Michael Franco) 

AskMD

When something's wrong and you head to your doctor's office, visits usually begin with a question and answer session. That's the same approach this app takes. Enter your symptoms and it walks you through a series of questions to narrow things down in an attempt to pinpoint the likely cause of your problem. The app will also tell you when it's time to head to the hospital and provides a summary of your answers that you can forward to your doctor ahead of your appointment. Need to find a doc? It provides a link to relevant ones nearby.

It also has a section for managing chronic conditions such as asthma or acid reflux disease.

AskMD is free forAndroid or iOS.

askMD app screenshot (Photo: Michael Franco) 

Michael Franco is a science and technology writer who secretly wishes he was an astronaut. His work has appeared in CNET, HowStuffWorks.com and Discover Magazine.