June 14, 2015 | by

Crowdsourcing CPR gets more help to cardiac arrest victims

If you go into cardiac arrest, getting help within the first few minutes can mean the difference between life and death. A new study shows that help can get to victims more quickly with a mobile-phone app that directs people who know CPR to medical emergencies near them.

The researchers call their app a “mobile-phone positioning system,” an homage to the network of satellites that make up the global positioning system, or GPS. The app uses the GPS function in mobile phones to find and contact bystanders trained in cardiopulmonary resuscitation who happen to be in the vicinity of a reported cardiac emergency. CPR-trained volunteers download the app if they are willing to get the alerts.

Dr. Leif Svensson, a cardiologist at the Center for Resuscitation Science at Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, conceived of the research project 10 years ago during his morning commute. A 50-year-old woman’s heart stopped right outside the bus he was on.

“Nobody on the bus, including myself, saw this,” he said.

But when he arrived at the hospital for work, he saw the woman again, dead upon arrival in the emergency room.

“I was sitting approximately 10 to 15 feet from the place where she had her cardiac arrest,” Svensson recalled. If he had known of her condition earlier, he would have been able to help by performing CPR.

So Svensson recruited some colleagues and devised a system to “find your closest lifesaver,” as he put it. Whenever someone reported a case of cardiac arrest to emergency responders, all CPR-trained volunteers who were within about a third of a mile of the patient would receive a text message and a phone call to alert them to the emergency and the patient’s location.

To test how well it worked, Svensson and his team enlisted nearly 10,000 CPR-trained volunteers to participate in the study. The team activated the network and put out a call to volunteers after 306 cardiac arrests over a 20-month period. In those cases, a volunteer was able to initiate CPR 62% of the time.

View the full story by Sasha Harris-Lovett at the Los Angeles Times.