Mobile App Reviews: 52 Weeks for Women's Health

Reviewed by Michael Honch (June 2014):

52 Weeks for Women's Health is a mobile app created by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Office of Research on Women’s Health (ORWH) to educate and empower women by informing them of health issues affecting their lives, offering them ways to use this knowledge to maintain a healthy lifestyle.  Through its glossary of health topics and portals to ORWH and NIH resources, the app seeks to make scientific research available to women in a form they can understand and utilize to improve their quality of life.  To meet this goal, the app must allow a user to pursue a deeper information need, enable them to make the leap from passive information recipient to actively engaged participant, and adequately address data security and privacy concerns.  To these ends, 52 Weeks for Women's Health is a work in progress

 The app's main menu displays a series of options. A-Z Health lists the glossary of terms, one for each week of the year.  This week's health focus is caregiving.  While the layout is plain, the simple text defines important terms such as respite care, and points out the importance of emergency planning.  The content is clear and informative; hyperlinks to the NIH and ORWH sites provide avenues for further inquiry.  At top, the add button allows a user to place this page in their favorites list; next, they can share this page via e-mail, Twitter, or Facebook.   Such features are valuable, because they encourage repeated use, and enable active participation: the engaged user who passes this information on to a loved one is acting to improve their health literacy as well as that of the recipient.  Finally, the back button at top left corner returns the user to the main menu.

The app also enables a user to create and save information.  My Health Stats provides a place for women to enter private health data, encouraging record keeping, personal responsibility, and empowerment.  The link between content creation and women’s agency is reinforced by the Journal and Goals features, where women may reflect and mark progress.  The back button is always available to return the user to the main menu; there, the "i" logo to the lower right provides privacy information, assuring the user that "NIH will not collect any information entered into this app.  All confidential information will remain private”, and that the app can be password-protected in settings.

Women can pursue an inquiry by following links to the NIH site, which serves as a portal to health-related government information, and the ORWH blog [figure 6], which offers articles locatable by tag cloud and keyword searches.  The information is detailed, but limits its use of medical terminology so as to be usable to the layperson. These e-government portals open within the app, rather than a separate web browser on the user's device.  Though this may enhance internal data security, it presents a functional problem: once there, the user has no way to exit the NIH or ORWH sites and return to the app's main menu; without a back arrow or return feature, the only way back to the main menu is to force quit and reboot the device.  This problem occurs on Android devices and iPhone, as well as iPad.  While restarting a mobile device is simple, the inconvenience of such a step limits the app's functionality, and may discourage repeated use.

To improve this app, NIH could re-design it so that external links open up in the user's web browser, rather than the app itself.  That way, a user could shift between the app's glossary and journal features while consulting online information sources.  As currently designed, such functionality is not possible.  In addition, the app's privacy statement needs to be improved to explain how NIH will protect the user's personal health information; just saying that it will not be shared or used is not enough.  This may speak to a larger need for enhanced security.  Such design improvements will increase trust and usage.  Finally, making the app available in other languages and redesigning its text to accommodate small screens would better serve non-English speakers and the visually impaired, groups who would also benefit from this information.

Michael Honch is an MLS student at the University of Maryland iSchool enrolled in the eGovernment specialization. Michael is a recipient of a Laura Bush 21st Century scholarship funded by the U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services.