App Makes Bystanders Key in Cardiac Arrest Survival

Heather Caspi details the mobile app that's catching fire in cities around the country to help cardiac arrest victims.


However, there is not currently data to pinpoint the impact of the app on citizen CPR rates or how often AEDs were used, so a survey has recently been added to the app to ask those who received notifications several follow up questions. This will be part of a 3 year clinical trial funded by the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada. Price said. It will not be a goal of the project to determine how many “saves” can be attributed to the app, as there are too many additional factors to make that determination, he said.

Public Outreach

The real key to this program is public outreach, Price noted, because it depends upon trained and interested citizens. “You can deploy this technology, but if your citizens aren’t aware it won’t have any effect,” he said.

The best chance for quick intervention is to get as many citizens trained in CPR and AED deployment as possible.

“The agencies that already do a good job on CPR citizen will get the most impact (from the app) or there’s no one to notify,” Price said, “so it’s not a shortcut.”

In addition to all the traditional forms of public outreach, such as CPR training, appearances at community fairs, etc., it takes an extra push to promote the program. This includes playing the app’s PSA at theaters in cities that deploy it, and often includes joining efforts with other agencies and hospitals to help with promotion. El Camino Hospital played a large role in bringing the app to the Silicon Valley and promoting its use in the community.

Getting Onboard

The foundation provides information to assist cities with deploying the technology and deploying their public outreach campaigns.

The roadmap includes getting your agency’s dispatch system connected to the PulsePoint service. This requires compatible technology, the case for most modern CAD systems. The cost to make that interface will vary depending upon each agency’s technology and vendor.  

Price noted that agencies also have to put work into locating and cataloging their AEDs, as many cities have little documentation on this, particularly those in private businesses.

“Most agencies have to step up their work around AEDs,” Price said. “You’ve got to know they’re there and working… it’s a higher standard if you’re going to be dispatching the information.”

Interested agencies should learn more about getting onboard by visiting http://pulsepoint.org.

The Experience at the Alameda County, Calif. Fire Department

Division Chief Scott Doan runs IT for the Alameda County Fire Department and its regional dispatch center. He first experienced the PulsePoint app as a citizen of San Ramon and was quickly sold on it.

“It’s the first thing I’ve seen in my career that I think is going to make a great change in SCA survival statistics,” he said.

Doan was able to bring his whole agency onboard by addressing questions and concerns about the technology and about calling upon citizens. (Most questions can be answered by viewing the PulsePoint website.)  One of those questions was whether responders would actually want numerous bystanders on an emergency scene. “It hasn’t been a problem having to move them,” he said, “and if someone has started CPR we’ve hit a home run.”

The cost to get their system connected to the PulsePoint service was about $25,000, which was covered by the Alameda County EMS Agency.

Doan said the program has since been resoundingly accepted by those within the department, and has been extremely positive in the public and press.

“It’s getting a lot of attention here in the Bay Area,” he said. “It’s not often we can bring something so valuable for almost no cost.”

For others trying to get their agencies onboard, he recommends, “Speak to other agencies that have done it because we’re close a knit family.” They can talk about the experience, any negatives, and any advice, Doan suggested.

“The more fire departments get on the bandwagon I think the easier it’ll be,” he said.

Survivor and PulsePoint Spokesman, Joe Farrell

One of the strongest proponents of the app is PulsePoint Foundation member Joe Farrell. He saved a life by performing bystander CPR on a victim suffering sudden cardiac arrest at a golf course in 2007. A year later he became a victim himself, and was saved by a track coach after collapsing at a dinner party. He credits his survival and brain recovery to the bystander who used CPR, the use of an AED by paramedics, and the therapeutic hypothermia he received at the hospital – a procedure that had just been implemented.