More than 250,000 people in the US die every year because of medical mishaps, making it the third leading cause of death after heart disease and cancer, according to a recent study by Johns Hopkins.
Meanwhile, nearly 40,000 Americans die every year in road accidents, according to IIHS. While many are attributable to driver error, most of these could be prevented or at least mitigated by better technology.
The pattern is similar in other industries: Consumers and employees alike face unacceptable safety risks from outdated or inadequate technology. Often, the old ways of doing things are simply too dangerous for modern standards.
Fortunately, a new generation of emerging technologies is reshaping the landscape. They’re improving safety conditions not only in transportation and healthcare, but in sport, construction, and numerous other industries too. Some are available for download in major app stores. Others are more specialized but still freely available for people and firms that seek them out. Still others remain in development but appear likely to hit the market soon.
Here’s how they’re making workplaces — and the wider world — safer for everyone.
The sports industry is fun, entertaining, exhilarating — and often dangerous. Most people who’ve played competitive sports, even at the high school or collegiate level, know firsthand what it’s like to be injured during practice or a game.
We’re unlikely to eliminate them completely, at least not anytime soon. But new technologies make it possible to reduce the frequency and severity of more serious sports injuries and illnesses, such as concussion and heat stroke.
Smart helmets are now on the cusp of commercialization. The top prize at the 2019 Yahoo Sports Technology Awards went to a sensor-laden equestrian helmet. The sensors constantly measure and report pressure and impact force. The helmet can also be fitted with communications technology to alert emergency services of a potential injury to the wearer. It’s likely we’ll see similar technology in helmets worn by cyclists, climbers, and American football players in the years ahead.
Meanwhile, apps that track on-field weather conditions are currently being used to protect athletes who practice and play outdoors. For example, the Zelus WBGT app measures outdoor wet bulb globe temperature in real-time within geographical parameters precise enough to be relevant for specific competitions. Coaches, managers, and players themselves can use its outputs to determine the amount of heat stress on an individual and give players rest when needed.
Healthcare systems and insurers have thrown billions toward improved technology and processes for care delivery and no doubt will continue to do so. But the most cost-effective improvements are happening closer to home, via easily accessible (often free) consumer technologies with the power to save lives.
You might already have one on your iPhone. The Apple Health Medical ID shows critical medical information, including allergies, known medical conditions, and emergency contact details, to first responders without bypassing the lock screen. In a true emergency, it could save your life.
Day-to-day health management might not be as dramatic, but it also has the potential to save (or at least prolong) life. Apps like the Heartify Heart Health Monitor track and interpret your vital signs in real time. Their output reinforces healthy habits and may help spot danger signs early, before a medical emergency occurs.
The federal government has had a hand in some of the most impactful traffic safety technologies and applications to debut in recent years. For example, the FCC recently designated LTE cellular vehicle-to-everything as the standard technology for new road safety applications. Although testing continues, its potential applications are extensive, covering everything from preempting traffic lights for emergency vehicles and public transportation to notifying road users of crashes and other hazards in the area.
Likewise, the NHTSA’s SaferCar app delivers potentially lifesaving vehicle safety information to registered users, including safety recall announcements. These alerts add another point of notification to the patchwork “recall web,” reducing the risk that drivers will continue to use unsafe vehicles because they missed a letter, email, or local news story.
Better Technology for a Safer World
A functioning, dynamic society and economy seem to carry a high human cost: widespread medical errors, an epidemic of traffic accidents, so much preventable injury and death in sports.
It’s tempting to see this as ‘just the way things are.’ But there’s no reason it has to be. And it seems like the tide is finally turning, thanks to this new crop of safety-focused applications and technologies.
These technologies won’t prevent every single injury or death that would have occurred without them. Still, they’ll make conditions safer and more comfortable for us all, and they’ll do so without requiring a wholesale reimagining of these industries’ business models.