Some of the most powerful applications of technology involve connecting people to one another at the right time, not in real time. When a good idea is matched with solid implementation, remarkable outcomes can follow.
The big idea behind PulsePoint is for local 911 dispatchers to use a smartphone app to alert people trained and certified in CPR that someone nearby is going into cardiac arrest. In that kind of emergency situation, a more rapid response can be the difference between life, death or disability. A citizen trained in CPR arriving and treating a victim before medical professionals arrive increases the chances of the victim’s survival.
If someone using PulsePoint's Respond app answers an alert, their phone not only shows them a map of where the victim is, it also provides the location of the nearest automated external defibrillator (AED) that will allow them to shock the victim's heart back into a healthy rhythm.
According to the American Heart Association, less than 8 percent of people who go into cardiac arrest survive. Unfortunately, less than a third of cardiac arrest victims currently receive CPR from a bystander. Performing CPR immediately after a sudden cardiac arrest, however, can double or even triple a victim's chances of surviving.
A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine in June that evaluated a similar smartphone alert system in Sweden found that dispatching trained volunteers was associated with "significantly increased rates of bystander-initiated CPR among persons with out-of-hospital cardiac arrest."
Even better than CPR, however, is using an AED. If you've ever seen a doctor on TV shout "Clear!" and then shock a patient with paddles, you're familiar with the function of the device, if not its application. Portable AEDs use electrodes that you place on the victim's skin.
According to Canada's Heart and Stroke Association, when combined with CPR, an AED may increase the likelihood of a victim of cardiac arrest surviving by 75 percent or more. One study estimated that using an onsite AED doubled neurologically intact survival rates.
As of October 2015, more than 400,000 people trained and certified in CPR have installed the Respond app on their iPhone or Android devices. Richard Price, chief of the San Ramon, California, fire department and president of the PulsePoint Foundation, told The Huffington Post that the PulsePoint app has now activated almost 16,000 people trained in CPR to respond to more than 6,000 nearby cardiac emergencies.
That's a far cry from the service's humble beginnings. Its earliest iteration, called FireDepartment, launched four years ago in San Ramon, California. Back then the city's Fire Protection District relied on the app in much the same way that PulsePoint Respond is used today: to connect local people trained in CPR to nearby victims of cardiac arrest.
As more fire departments around the United States have adopted the system, reports of positive outcomes have followed. In September, bystanders who had the PulsePoint Respond app installed on their smartphone saved a man's life at a Shania Twain concert in Spokane, Washington, as reported by local news outlet KXLY4.
The PulsePoint Foundation is now encouraging the public to help it build a comprehensive database of the location of every public AED in the United States via a free companion app. The foundation launched the new app in San Diego in March.
While the PulsePoint AED app allows anyone to submit the location, description and photograph of an AED, all submissions are reviewed and verified by emergency service professionals before they appear in PulsePoint's Respond app. That verification, in this case by local government, is a crucial component in creating an accurate database.
Price told HuffPost that there is no verification required to use Respond. "We are not concerned about people attempting CPR who are not trained. This just doesn't happen -- with or without the app," he said. "Our hope is that people who are trained will engage and participate with the app. The vast majority of our responders are actually off-duty professionals."
PulsePoint is still one of the best examples of civic technology I've ever covered, and the service has come a long way since the launch of San Ramon's hyperlocal FireDepartment app. PulsePoint has now spread to about 1,400 cities and communities in 23 states, according to Price. He told HuffPost that more than 200 more communities around the United States are actively working on adopting PulsePoint Respond.
Earlier this year, the app came to Los Angeles County and Los Angeles City, the second largest metropolitan area in the United States. In the video below, recorded in March 2015, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti announces the Los Angeles Fire Department's formal adoption of the app:
People living in the District of Columbia may be the next community to get better connected to one another. Price was in town to meet with the D.C. Council and Fire and Emergency Services this October when we corresponded.
He said that the new fire chief, Gregory Dean, already has PulsePoint on his phone from his tenure in the Pacific Northwest as the head of Seattle's Fire Department, which is also raising money to cover the costs of installing the system.
Stay tuned, D.C.