Donor Aide is a mobile health application that is currently in development and will benefit the community of blood donors, and therefore the larger community as a whole. There are three main objectives to the app’s design: to facilitate the schedule of regular blood donors, to educate potential donors about whether or not they are eligible to donate blood, and to connect ineligible users to organizations that work to illegalize unnecessary discrimination against communities that are not allowed to donate blood.
Donor Aide’s first objective – helping regular donors – can be broken into two segments. The first is a date of eligibility tracker, in which users can input the date of their most recent donation, and the app will ‘save the date’ on which they are allowed to donate again. The second is a GPS-enabled feature that will show users local donation sites within their own vicinity, or around a searched ZIP code.
The second objective – educating about eligibility – is met through the inclusion of a questionnaire feature within the app. Each time a person wants to donate blood, he or she must complete a verbal questionnaire to ensure that they meet all of the eligibility requirements, some of which include age, weight, medical history, recent travel, and sexual history, among other things (Miller Keystone, 2014). By completing Donor Aide’s mock questionnaire, potential donors can save the time of going to the donation site if they would be turned away anyway. This can help educate new donors about the requirements, as well as allow regular donors to get a more up-to-date status.
The app’s final objective is to work against the discrimination that is written into the regulations for eligibility. Listing organizations that work toward antidiscrimination for specific communities will help meet the objective, and then Donor Aide can connect users to these organizations’ websites and causes.
As with many social justice and technology development projects, field research had a great effect on the development of Donor Aide. The overlying structure and features of the design had already been decided, but my field research on Thomas Jefferson University Hospital’s campus showed me that finding an audience would not be as easy as I first anticipated. I expected the population of health professionals and students to be a potential audience, but I have since concluded that an app like Donor Aide would be better suited as an extension of blood donation centers themselves, such as the American Red Cross and Miller-Keystone Blood Center. This allows the app to have a built in audience from the sites themselves, and that audience could then grow through networks of family and friends to gain a broader user base.
The first two objectives of Donor Aide categorize it as a mobile health, or m-health, app. According to Juan Garcia-Gomez, “mobile health … can be defined as ‘the use of wireless technology to deliver health services and info on mobile communication devices such as mobile phones, PDAs, smartphones, monitoring devices, e-book readers, and iPods,” (2014, p. 75). Personal technologies have afforded the creation of an entire market segment of people playing a larger and more intentional role in their own health and lifestyle. These apps can assist individual patients, such as the overweight man who wants to monitor his pre-diabetes symptoms and the expectant mother who wants to gather the relevant information before deciding to breastfeed her infant. But they can also benefit the medical community as a whole: blood donation is a crucial part of the health industry, and Donor Aide lets people get involved on both an individual and a communal level. Garcia-Gomez continues that the empowerment these kinds of apps bring “links the individual and his or her well-being to the wider social and political environment in which he or she functions.” (2014, p. 75).
Donor Aide’s status as a mobile health app puts helps secure its position as a social justice app. Amartya Sen theorizes that, “justice requires us to enable people to engage in the activities necessary to achieve what they want, rather than to give them what they want (as cited in Light and Luckin, 2008, p. 9) Especially as an extension of blood donation institutions, Donor Aide acts as an enabler for the act of blood donation, an activity that benefits the community at large. As anyone that has waited for a blood transfusion can say, blood banks are almost always running low on blood. Everybody wants there to be an ample supply for hospitals, and Donor Aide allows users to take action and create it.
One concern for mobile health apps is that people might begin to use them in an unhealthy fashion; however, in a report by Kendall Ho for the British Colombia Medical Journal these examples are usually related to weight loss apps that might trigger inappropriate eating and exercise behaviors (2013, p. 459). Donor Aide would not really apply to those concerns because the only behavior that it affects is blood donation itself. When a person donates blood, their information is stored in a large database to ensure that they do not donate more often than is healthy (Miller Keystone, 2014). Donor Aide allows users to ‘save the date’ of eligibility, but each donation site will still check an individual’s file as part of the registration process. The app does not allow for inappropriate behavior, so one part of the marketing initiative would be to have it included on lists of apps approved by health professionals. Ho cites The University of British Colombia’s Health-e-apps project as an example of “the synergistic use of health apps by health professionals and health consumers” (2013, p. 460). Such an endorsement, coupled with the partnerships with blood banks, would legitimize the app as a healthy and socially beneficial piece of software.
Furthermore, in activating marginalized communities through its third objective, Donor Aide works to promote a more equal world. According to John Rawls’s Liberty Principle, “everyone is equally entitled to basic rights and liberties, as long as that does not infringe upon the rights and liberties of others,” (as cited in Light and Luckin, 2008, p. 9). In this sense, Donor Aide would definitely be considered a social justice application. One of the communities that Donor Aide would serve in this way would be that of homosexual men. In 1985, the United States Food and Drug Administration banned men who have sex with men from donating blood; at the time, there was an argument that the demographic statistics of HIV/AIDS were enough of an ‘infringement’ to justify them (Josefson, 2000, p. 722).
In 2000, the British Medical Journal published an update on the state of the United States’ ban. In the article, Deborah Josefson states that critics say it is “discriminatory and outdated, as other high risk groups such as prostitutes, intravenous drug users, and promiscuous heterosexuals are deferred from donation only one year from their last high risk encounter” (2000, p. 722). In the decade and a half that have passed since that article was published, the LGBT has made enormous strides in legal equality and cultural acceptance. It follows that the outdated ban will eventually be lifted or at least altered, especially since blood screening technologies have seen so many advancements since it was enacted. Josefson cites an FDA study that found an estimated 62,300 homosexual men would be willing to donate blood if they were allowed (2000, p. 722). That is a lot of blood that hospitals could use. If helping one’s society, in this case through blood donation, is a basic right, then Donor Aide has the potential to make for a more liberated and just world.
Donor Aide does take advantage of mobility. The global positioning system (GPS) feature to locate blood drives would not be possible without mobile technologies. On the users’ end, a person’s location can be displayed on a map like Google Maps, and then the user can transport themselves their either by walking or inputting the drive’s address into another app like MapQuest. But from the blood centers’ end, their respective locations need to be uploaded to the map server. That geo-location service depends on the mobile technology of global positioning. A similar technology could be utilized in the social activism segment in order to point users in the direction of local chapters of larger organizations.
At this point, because of the largely visual nature of Donor Aide, it will have limited access to certain groups of disabled people, especially the blind community. Future updates to the app would hope to emphasize the app’s compatibility with individual phone’s accessibility features. For example, the iPhone is capable of reading text aloud, and Donor Aide would want to utilize that kind of technology, which would be especially helpful and plausible for the questionnaire section.
Privacy should not really be of concern to Donor Aide users because the Donor Aide app saves nothing in its interface, and no really personal information is inputted in the first place. In the Journal of Communication article “Who’s watching whom?”, Lee Humphreys defines privacy as “the ability to control what information about oneself is available to others” (2011, p. 576). In every part of Donor Aide, the user maintains that control. The closest that the app gets to a personal profile is the date of eligibility tracker, but that does not include the users real name, and is not stored on any database; it is kept within the information of the app on the individual phone. While other apps might back up this information, Donor Aide does not feel the need to, because even if the date is lost, the user’s regular blood center would still have it on file; this part of the app is meant to be more of a convenience than a solid record. Also, in terms of location privacy, the GPS feature does not need to be utilized, as there is also a ZIP code search bar. The mock questionnaire does not ask for a name of any sort, so each session is anonymous, and again, the result is simply displayed onscreen so that no information needs to be sent back to Donor Aide.
One might express concern over surveillance when it comes to the antidiscrimination and social activism part of the app, but Donor Aide has again been designed to put these worries to rest. Humphreys outlines three types of surveillance: the voluntary panopticon, in which people consent to being surveilled; lateral surveillance, in which citizens keep track of one another; and self-surveillance, in which people monitor their own behavior (2011, p. 577). Because Donor Aide simply acts as a resource to connect to these outside organizations, little activism activity is done within the app itself. The links act in a similar fashion to the “Open in Safari” feature of Apple’s Twitter app, where the user will actually be transported from Donor Aide to a website. There is no way to trace any user information from the app. The date of eligibility feature is akin to self-surveillance, but it is done on a private level and, as described above, is not saved on any larger scale.
Altogether, Donor Aide has the potential to be the next big mobile health and social justice app. With a mission to facilitate blood donation, to educate people about the blood donation process and requirements, and to mobilize people for activism related to blood donation causes, the app covers several areas of social justice within the health and wellness industry. The app has been designed to contain the possibilities of loss of privacy through limited input of private information. Instead of a personal data hub, Donor Aide acts as a tool to assist regular blood donors and those who wish to donate in the future. Through the partnering with blood banks and donation centers, an initial audience is already established; the hope for the future is that that audience would grow by word of mouth, and while there is little need for commercial income, advertisement space could be sold on the app in the future. With all of these difference pieces coming together, Donor Aide can do a lot to work for social justice.
Garcia-Gomez, J. M.-D.-C. (2014). Analysis of mobile health applications for a broad spectrum of consumers: A user experience approach. Health Informatics Journal , 74-84.
Ho, K. (2013). Health-e-Apps: A project to encourage effective use of mobile health applications. British Colombia Medical Journal , 458-460.
Humphreys, Lee. (2010). Who’s watching whom? A study of interactive technology and surveillance. Journal of Communication. 61(4). P. 575-595
Josefson, D. (2000, September 23). FDA declines to lift ban on homosexual men as blood donors. British Medical Journal (International ed.) , 722.
Light, Ann and Rosemary Luckin. (2008). “Designing for Social Justice: People, Technology and Learning.” Report for Futurelab.
Miller-Keystone Blood Center. (2014). Are You Eligible to Donate. Retrieved May 1, 2014, from giveapint.org: http://www.giveapint.org/donate-blood/are-you-eligible-to-donate-blood.html