Often when we see news reports about smartphones and safety, it is about how someone was injured or killed because they were distracted by their phone (or smartwatch) at a critical moment.
But for all that smartphones can cause us to crash our cars or fall into sewers, they can also improve our health and make us safer. Here are three examples of health and safety smartphone apps.
Ladder Safety: This is a smartphone app from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) is designed to use the built in accelerometers in a smartphone to measure the angle of a ladder and tell the user if it is safe (not too steep or too shallow). While this app was designed for use on the job site, it can also be a valuable tool for the general public.
In this photo we see a homeowner (my husband) using an extension ladder to replace the batteries in a smoke detector (staying safe!). But is the ladder at a safe angle? We had no idea! He survived, but now that we have this app, we can be sure that the ladder will be safely and properly placed the next time we have to change that battery.
This app from Boston Children’s Hospital is a mobile version of the HealthMap website that shows current outbreaks in your area. HealthMap uses an automated health news aggregator, as well as user reports, to constantly compile health news. While I don’t usually use HealthMap at home (I’m pretty good about keeping up on local outbreak news), I found it very valuable for planning a trip to Central America. I checked the HealthMap for the area I was traveling to a few weeks before I left to make sure I had gotten vaccinated against anything that was currently circulating, and that I had the proper precautions for vector-borne diseases.
This app, from the Monterey Bay Aquarium provides users not only mobile access to the popular Seafood Watch guide for selecting safe and sustainable seafood, but also will locate nearby restaurants that feature sustainable seafood. While the primary aim of Seafood Watch is to encourage purchases that protect the environment, they include a list of “Super Green” choices that are both environmentally friendly and good for your health (low in mercury and high in long-chain omega-3 fatty acids). This is a really valuable resource, because omega-3s are highly recommended for pregnant women, but mercury is strongly warned against, and often the fish that provide the most omega-3s are also high in mercury.
The biggest challenge for health and safety smartphone apps is getting people to download and use them. As Heather Mansfield says in “Social Media for Social Good”, most apps don’t end up getting downloaded. An app can’t just be a mobile version of an organization’s website (which might be all that a group needs). In order to get downloaded and used, an app has to perform a function that a user wants and needs (even if they didn’t know they needed it), and has to do it better than a website.
The Seafood Watch app is an outgrowth of the very popular Seafood Watch website and printed guides. The Ladder Safety app is essentially a level on a phone, with a specific “safe position” indicator. The HealthMap is the most novel of the apps, in that it cannot exist outside of the connected environment, and it provides vital information to users in the moment and location where they need it. What about your health concern is mobile? Let that guide you to develop (or not) your app.