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ViewPoint: Crowd-sourcing nearby heroes

Back in 2009, San Francisco Fire Chief Richard Price was having lunch out with colleagues when he heard the familiar sound of a fire engine approaching. To his surprise, a truck from his own station pulled up outside the restaurant, and he soon discovered that the firefighters had been dispatched to a cardiac arrest just next door. As a veteran first responder, Price knew the statistics – for every minute that passed before CPR was started, the probability of survival decreased by up to 10 per cent. Realizing in that moment that he’d missed the opportunity to help, Price set out to develop a tool that could harness the power of ready and able bystanders to help save more lives.  The outcome of his efforts is an incredible mobile phone app called PulsePoint.

[Dr. Steven Brooks]
Dr. Steven Brooks displays the PulsePoint app on his own mobile device.

Ever since I became an ER physician, I’ve been interested in resuscitation and bystander intervention. These two things are inextricably linked simply because we depend on the public to take us through the critical steps in the “chain of survival” – early recognition, an early 911 call, early CPR, and early defibrillation. For years, we have been pouring resources into the community to teach people CPR and purchase AEDs, but when the time comes, all of that effort and all of those resources just don’t seem to connect. We really only have seconds or minutes to get it right, and yet if something is out of a bystander’s line of sight, the whole process can fail. As soon as I heard about PulsePoint, I knew it had the ability to change all of that, and I became set on bringing it to Canada.

The idea is simple. When someone suffers a sudden cardiac arrest, a phone call to 911 is made and the location of the victim is provided to the operator. While simultaneously dispatching EMS teams, the 911 operator sends out a PulsePoint alert. Anyone who is within 500 metres of the victim and has PulsePoint installed on their phone will be alerted with the exact location of the cardiac arrest. The PulsePoint users can then rush to help the victim before EMS teams arrive. Additionally, PulsePoint shows bystanders the exact location of nearby AEDs.

Due to the complex organization that is required to set up PulsePoint in a community, the app isn’t available everywhere just yet. However, thanks to a grant from the Heart and Stroke Foundation and a lot of hard work from a number of key partners, I am thrilled to announce that PulsePoint is now ready for use in Kingston. While PulsePoint is used successfully all over the United States, Kingston will be the first Canadian city to pilot the app.

Here at Queen’s University, there are thousands of students, faculty, and staff with up-to-date CPR training. As a community, we have the opportunity to change the cardiac arrest statistics in our city and save more lives. If you are interested in learning more about PulsePoint, I encourage you to come out to the Queen’s launch of the app where we will showcase how it works first hand. We are hosting it on April 7 in the ARC main gym from 1:30-2 pm. In the meantime, you can follow the key steps outlined below to get PulsePoint up and running on your phone.