Crowdsourcing CPR? Scaling the Good Samaritan

Crowdsourcing CPR

The use of smartphone-based tools to manage your health has gotten a lot of attention over the past few years. There are a lot of apps out there to get you to move more, eat better, keep track of your medicines, and monitor your blood pressure. In fact, the American Heart Association recently published a detailed scientific statement on how the use of mobile health tools can be used to prevent heart disease.

In addition to these self-care tools, we have also seen another trend — the development of smartphone apps to enable good Samaritans to come to the rescue when a complete stranger is in need.

Consider cardiac arrest, which is when someone’s heart stops. One of the most critical treatments that victims of cardiac arrest need is good CPR. Only 7% of people who have an out-of-hospital cardiac arrest will survive and every minute that passes without CPR reduces those already slim chances.

Many of the patients for whom I have cared have not been fortunate enough to have someone nearby who knew how to do CPR. Even when there was someone, it was often a distressed family member who, in all likelihood, was too traumatized and scared to do it correctly. This is where PulsePoint comes in. PulsePoint is a San Francisco based nonprofit which helps get willing volunteers with CPR training to the victims of cardiac arrest.

Here is how it works. When the emergency response center gets a call that that they recognize as a cardiac arrest, they activate an emergency response team. Simultaneously, the call goes out on PulsePoint. Nearby volunteers get an alert with the location of the person in need and directions to get there.

According to PulsePoint President Richard Price, volunteers have not only started CPR but have also provided support and encouragement for others at the scene. Not infrequently, he added, multiple volunteers will respond to the same call. Right now PulsePoint only works if the call comes from a non-residential location, presumably for safety and privacy reasons.

These types of systems have been shown to be effective. A study in Sweden looked at what happened when they deployed a similar system in one large city. By the end of the study, they had signed up over 10,000 volunteers. Like PulsePoint, this system could be activated when a call came in to the emergency response center. Researchers looked at what happened when they activated their smartphone based Good Samaritan system versus when they did not and they found that this system could significantly increase the rates of bystander CPR, from 48% to 62%.

According to Mr. Price, PulsePoint recruits heavily among first responders and trained healthcare professionals whenever they are getting started in a new city.

As a result, the majority of PulsePoint volunteers have professional training or experience in emergency response. However, any volunteer with CPR training can sign up.

There are some challenges to deploying a system like this in the United States in comparison to Sweden, namely that we have a very fragmented emergency response system. Each city or county has its own emergency response center with its own protocols and its own computer system. According to Mr. Price, now that PulsePoint has figured out how to connect with all of the major software vendors, he expects expansion to pick up. In fact, they plan to roll out in several cities and counties across the country in coming months.

In recent years, we’ve seen a lot of attention on training people in effective CPR. Part of the reason is that out-of-hospital cardiac arrest is an incredibly difficult problem; it’s a condition where seconds matter but help is often many minutes away. Training more and more people in CPR will make it more likely that there will be a bystander who knows CPR.

These days we crowdsource everything - product reviews on Amazon, earthquake detection in California, and even the search for extraterrestrial life. Why not crowdsource CPR? 

This article was contributed by Dr. Satish Misra, a cardiology fellow at the Johns Hopkins Hospital the Executive Editor of where physicians and health professionals review of health apps and digital health tech.

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