A team of researchers has developed a mobile medical application that harnesses smartphones to virtually place 911 dispatchers at the scene of emergency situations.
|A smartphone placed on a victim's torso allows the emergency operator to view the victim's breaths per minute. This allows the operator to gauge whether the caller should start CPR. Photo credit: Logan Widick, University of North Texas
The app, developed by a team led by University of North Texas engineering professor Ram Dantu with support from the National Science Foundation's Directorate for Computer and Information Science and Engineering, enables 911 dispatchers to remotely control the smartphone of a 911 caller at the scene, enabling the dispatcher to see video of the scene and collect vital information about the victim.
During emergency calls, 911 dispatchers ask callers basic questions to help them assess the situation, but callers don’t always know the answers.
“When a 911 operator asks the question, ‘Is the patient breathing?’ callers often have no idea,” Dantu said during a virtual press conference today.
The app his team created is intended to solve that problem. Using the software, a caller at the scene can place a smartphone on the victim’s chest to monitor their breathing rate and place the victim’s finger on the smartphone’s camera to check their heart rate. The app can also cufflessly monitor the victim’s blood pressure. All information captured is transmitted wirelessly to 911 dispatchers.
At the press conference, the research team also demonstrated the app’s CPR assistance feature. A 911 caller at the scene can strap a smartphone to their hands using a piece of clothing or a plastic bag, for example, to get instruction on how to perform CPR. The app can also provide real-time feedback—urging the caller to increase the speed or depth of compressions, for example.
The app also features text-to-speech technology, which can help in situations where a 911 caller doesn’t speak English or is hearing or speech impaired.
Henning Schultzrinne, of the Federal Communication Commission, said the app is one example of technology that can interface with the new Next Generation 911 systems being rolled out across the country. These IP-based systems replace the voice-only 911 systems used in the past and can incorporate new sources of information, such as text messages, images, video, and data.
The app has been tested by 40–50 individuals in a lab setting, and the researchers hope to launch a pilot in a hospital or nursing home environment soon, Dantu said. He said the app will require FDA approval, and the team’s next steps include talking with vendors of emergency dispatch protocols to learn how to integrate the app with their systems. It was initially developed for the Android platform, but the researchers also plan to launch a version that can run on Apple’s iOS. They hope to have a version of the app available for download in 2–3 months.
—Jamie Hartford is the managing editor of MD+DI.