What are apps for?

health-app-2A few years ago there was a joke along the lines that whenever someone stated they were about to do something, someone would say that ‘there’s an app for that.’ And to some extent that is true. There are a very large number of apps out there. It can be very easy to create an app to do something, and some are incredibly useful. On my phone I have apps for tide tables, checking pollution at my local beach, setting up intervals for sports training, measuring and mapping my sporting training sessions as well as all the others you’d expect to see. Tools like MIT App Inventor allow children and even Computing Lecturers to create apps for the Android platform fairly easily with a few simple constructs and a programming language familiar to a large number of school children in the UK.

However, some are less useful. In some areas so many of them seem to miss the great opportunity of the automation that mobile computers with fantastic communication facilities offer you – and simply provide you with a replacement to a physical piece of paper. After all, if it just replaces a piece of paper, what’s the benefit over that piece of paper which doesn’t run out of battery at an inopportune moment? You can have more of them on you, but is that the best we can do?

One area I am interested in as a Volunteer Lifeguard and Lifeguard Trainer is First Aid. First Aid is the (emergency) medical response that we give before we hand a casualty over to paramedics, where they may or may not transfer them to definitive care in the hospital setting. There are a large number of first aid apps out there, with some of them from the big first aid training organisations. Some have more functionality than others, but I think there is great scope for an app that is really useful in a first aid situation, especially when things get really serious. What would I want it to do?

First Aid is actually pretty easy in theory – there are a set of rules you follow and then you need to practice and practice until you do it in the right way. The issue lies in when you get stressed, or you are tired, or it’s 11 months or even a few years since your last refresher session! Unless it’s a passion most members of the public, even if trained, won’t remember all the first aid from their training from one year to the next.

So how can an app help me deal with stress and fatigue and constantly being on the forgetting curve somewhere?

  • It can take you through the process step by step.
  • It can do this in voice and BIG BOLD type, with big easy to press buttons.
  • It can offer you simple choices to answers which can inform the app to tell you what to do next or what to ask from you next.
  • It can show you with images or video what to do, or how to do it if you have forgotten a detail.
  • It can even remember to CALL those medical professionals, or tell you to go to make that call if it can’t get a signal itself.
  • It can record those answers to be used in the hand-over to the medical professionals.

If I was really going to push the boat out I would say that having an app that could search for other first aiders in the vicinity and get them to you quickly to assist would be a benefit, or to show where the nearest public access first aid equipment was would be really helpful too, wherever you are.

Over the year 2015/16 I am hoping that one of our third year students will be producing a sample app to show how apps should use the power of the portable communicating computer to deal with a first aid incident. I’ll report back if they get there. Along the way we’ll talk about the ethical issues relating to this kind of system that provides an element of ‘expertise’.

About the author

Dr David Bennett is Senior Lecturer in Computing at CCCU with interests in Usability and teaching computer programming. He is also a qualified Surf Life Saving GB ‘Surf Lifeguard’ who helps runs Broadstairs Surf Life Saving Club and volunteers for the RNLI as a lifeguard in the summer months. He was awarded the ‘Heroes of the Surf’ award in 2015 by SLSGB for his work in creating the Broadstairs club.

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