PulsePoint: An App with Lifesaving Potential

Feb 4, 2014 | Greggory Moore | Moore Lowdown
PulsePoint: An App with Lifesaving Potential

image by: PulsePoint

Got cardiac arrest? There's an app for that, and it's called PulsePoint. With any luck it's coming to a town near you. And it just might save your life—or help you save someone else's

According to the Sudden Cardiac Arrest Foundation, sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) is the leading cause of death over 40. Approximately 1,000 people per day suffer SCA, with roughly 90% dying.

Enter cardiopulmonary resuscitation, which generally goes by the moniker "CPR."  Developed roughly 50 years ago, CPR is a literal lifesaver. According to the American Heart Association (AHA), "For every 30 people who receive bystander CPR, 1 additional life is saved." And while that may not sound like much, when you crunch the numbers, if next year every SCA victim receives CPR on the scene, well over 10,000 of those who will die would have survived.

While there may be a variety of reasons why not every SCA victim can receive on-scene CPR, there isn't a reason in the world preventing the number from rising. The first step in that direction is for more and more people to learn CPR. The difference made by such knowledge diffusion is already well documented. As the AHA notes, "Striking geographic variation in OHCA [out-of-hospital cardiac arrest] outcomes has been observed, with survival rates varying from 0.2% in Detroit, MI, to 16% in Seattle, WA. Survival variation can be explained in part by differing rates of bystander cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), a vital link in improving survival for victims of OHCA."

Okay, so you've raised public awareness in your community regarding the value of CPR. That's great, but it only helps if someone trained in CPR is around when a SCA takes place, right?  Right. And that's the point of PulsePoint.

Here's how it works: If you're trained in CPR, you download PulsePoint. Then, when dispatchers receive a call of a possible SCA, contemporaneous with the dispatch to paramedics is an alert to (let's call them) PulsePointers within a half-mile of the incident. If a PulsePointer can to get to the scene before paramedics, she can initiate CPR.

How much sooner will a PulsePointer be able to arrive at the scene than a paramedic? It doesn't matter, because any sooner can be the difference between life and death. Every minute that goes by without CPR means a 7–10% reduction in the victim's chance of survival. Considering that typical EMS response time is 7 to 8 minutes, the lifesaving value of PulsePoint is clear. As the National Institute of Health reports, "Immediate CPR with chest compressions and ventilation provides a small but critical amount of blood to the heart and brain while waiting for a defibrillator to arrive. […] CPR is especially important if a shock is not delivered for 5 min or more after collapse." 

Because PulsePoint alerts are triggered by local emergency-service dispatchers, this potentially lifesaving tech is not free. The implementation cost is roughly $7,000, and annual licensing fees range from $5,000 to $25,000 per region, depending on population. But considering the potential value—how do you put a price on saving a life?—the question comes down how a given municipality conducts its cost/benefit analysis.

One auxiliary benefit for any community implementing PulsePoint is simply raising CPR awareness. Any community that implements PulsePoint would surely spread the word—otherwise, what's the point?—which provides a novel opportunity to bring the value of CPR to the public mind. And with PulsePoint "enabling citizen heroes" (as the tagline goes), no doubt the service would lead to an increase in residents receiving CPR training, a skill that can be acquired in a single afternoon.

Part of that analysis is how well the app works. In theory it's great, but in practice it does not seem all the bugs have been worked out. Out of 52 user reviews ranging back to a mid-November 2013 update, the overall average rating is two out of five stars, with 35 users giving it only a single star.

Although PulsePoint has not been implemented in my city (Long Beach, CA), I downloaded it to get a sense of how it works. One of PulsePoint's nice features is that the you can select not only what participating agencies to follow—including ones on the other side of the country, if you like—but you can choose to be notified not only of calls for CPR, but also of fires, vehicle accidents, hazardous-materials response, etc. However, after configuring my app to receive certain notifications from the closest participating agency (the Los Angeles County Fire Dept.), I was disappointed to find that every sort of notification was listed. And this problem persisted even when I reconfigured my app to receive only CPR notifications. Clearly, the PulsePoint app team has work to do.

No, the future hasn't completely arrived. PulsePoint doesn't resuscitate you, nor does it read you vitals and tell the paramedics that you've gone into cardiac arrest. But once cardiac arrest takes place, PulsePoint can only increase your odds of survival. That is, if your area participates in the program, and if the PulsePoint team can get the app working as it should. 

About the Author:

Except for a four-month sojourn in Comoros (a small island nation near the northwest of Madagascar), Greggory Moore has lived his entire life in Southern California.  Currently he resides in Long Beach, CA, where he engages in a variety of activities, including playing in the band MOVE, performing as a member of RIOTstage, and, of course, writing. 

His work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, OC Weekly, Daily Kos, the Long Beach Post, Random Lengths News, The District Weekly, GreaterLongBeach.com, and a variety of academic and literary journals.  HIs first novel, The Use of Regret, was published in 2011, and he is currently at work on his follow-up.  For more information:  greggorymoore.com


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