An article in the Wall Street Journal in January of this year, entitled “Why Uber can find you but 911 can’t” held up a scary mirror to emergency services around the world. Any call-taker can tell of the frustrations faced when trying to receive even the most basic information in order to send the appropriate resources to the correct location. Local knowledge is of course vital, but not always possible. In Israel, calls to Magen David Adom’s 101 Emergency Medical Dispatch Centre are answered on average within four seconds, but in order for this to be possible, the call may potentially be answered in any of the organisation’s nine Regional Dispatch Centres and or its National Dispatch Centre. A call from the Red Sea resort of Eilat in the far south could be connected to a dispatcher 300-miles away in the far north.
The difficulties continue away from the Dispatch Centre to the front line too. Unnamed or unsigned streets, invisible building numbers, or for example, when out hiking in the countryside where landmarks are trees, rivers, or sand dunes, make locations very difficult to find and can significantly harm response times.
Across the world with technology now literally pocket-sized on a smartphone, we have become used to ease-of-access to everything, from knowing the opening hours of the nearest pizza shop to the precise location of the local hospital. And, of course, you can book a taxi to pick you up from a precise location, all at the push of a touchscreen button.
So how is Magen David Adom different?
Up until the advent of mobile phones, land lines would give an exact location to which the line was registered. With mobile phones, location was initially based on signal masts, which would give an approximate location. The more densely covered the area, the nearer the approximate location. But now, MDA has developed a brand new, unique CAD system with an integrated location feature, the ability to receive live video feed and pictures from the scene and the ability to communicate with callers in numerous languages. In addition, a game changing mobile phone application, downloaded tens of thousands of times, that uses GPS and satellite technology in order to make the entire process of locating the patient quicker and easier.
The MyMDA app is the latest innovation in patient treatment. If a call is made via the app, rather than more traditional means of direct dialing the local emergency number, a precise location appears immediately in front of the call taker who is processing the emergency. This allows for resources to be allocated, even before the nature of the call is known, instantly improving response times.
The app has further important features that allow better treatment, even before the ambulance has arrived. Medical history, for example, can be stored in the app and sent directly when calling for an ambulance. Call takers in Israel are all trained EMTs or Paramedics, and their clinical knowledge can aid in the first few minutes of an incident. This added element is now assisted by the fact that the MyMDA app allows for live streaming of the incident directly to the call taker in the Dispatch Centre. Phone triage is a notoriously difficult skill to master and is made even more difficult by callers being unable to describe either the location or the incident itself.
An excellent example occurred recently, when a call was received to a cyclist who had collapsed whilst riding in a forest. There were no marked trails, no street names, no easily identifiable landmarks, and yet the first responder to reach the scene arrived and began CPR within just a few minutes of the initial call thanks to a precise GPS location as given by the app.
Other benefits include cases of multiple casualties, whether they be road accidents, terror attacks, or any other case where there are more than one patient. These scenes are often chaotic, sometimes in locations that are difficult to describe or locate, or for that matter spread across a wide area, and it is extremely difficult as a dispatcher to get a clear picture of the scene. Now, however,MyMDA allows the dispatcher to see exactly what the caller is trying to describe, be that via the video link, or with photos that the app also allows and sends directly to the Dispatch Centre.
Another option for locating calls for those who don’t have the app downloaded but have a smartphone, is for the Dispatch Centre to send them a WhatsApp message, to which the caller replies. In doing so, GPS technology can be utilised and pinpoint the caller’s precise location.
The days of searching for addresses, or difficult locations, are coming to an end. Uber may well be able to find us at the touch of a button, but now, thanks to new technology being implemented by Magen David Adom, so can dispatchers (who also provide better help while you wait), and so can ambulance crews. Not to mention – we have a distinct speed advantage (not to mention skill) over Uber thanks to our lights and sirens!