American Heart Association, RapidSOS team up to link emergency responders with patients' medical data

The American Heart Association and an emergency technology company are building a health data registry to aid first responders. (katifcam/GettyImages)

When first responders arrive on the scene of medical emergencies such as cardiac arrests, they often have to rely on limited information about patients based on what is communicated verbally to 911 operators. Lacking information like patients' medical histories, current medications or emergency contacts can cause critical delays in care.

The American Heart Association (AHA) and emergency technology company RapidSOS are working to close this gap by building a health data registry that first responders and 911 telecommunicators can access to improve medical emergency response.

The registry—which will rely on individuals to opt in to sharing their medical data—will give emergency responders more context on patients, leading to more informed responses, quicker treatment to those in need and improved outcomes.

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Francesca Dominici, Ph.D., co-director of the Data Science Initiative at Harvard University, said the health data registry will produce "more efficient, better prepared medical response" and will save lives.

RapidSOS builds software for public safety agencies and says its technology addresses challenges with the existing emergency communications infrastructure. Because the U.S. 911 system was built over 50 years ago for landline phones, it is difficult to digitally send any data to 911 and first responders, the two organizations said.

The result is that callers need to verbally relay personal and contextual information to the 911 operators in order to get appropriate care.

Cardiovascular disease is the culprit in 1 of every 4 deaths in the U.S. and the leading cause of death for both men and women. During cardiac arrest, every minute that passes without CPR and defibrillation decreases the chances of survival by 7% to 10% (PDF), according to data from the AHA and the American Stroke Association.

Heart disease and stroke are the first and fifth leading causes of death in the U.S.

"Seconds save lives during emergencies and providing responders with medical information for a patient can make all the difference in the outcome of an incident,” Michael Martin, CEO of RapidSOS, said in a statement.

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If emergency medical responders can tap into a patient's medical information when arriving on the scene, this could dramatically change the way in which care is delivered and tailored to the person's medical needs, according to Michael Kurz, M.D., chair of the AHA's systems of care subcommittee and associate professor at the University of Alabama School of Medicine in the Department of Emergency Medicine.

"Delays in recognition and treatment of time-sensitive conditions like heart attacks, strokes, and cardiac arrest can be the difference between life and death. RapidSOS helps us close the gap between emergency medical response and patients, resulting in better and more efficient emergency care," Kurz said.

The health database will provide patient medical and personal information directly to public safety personnel during a 911 call at no cost for local public safety agencies that have signed up to access the database.

As a result, emergency responders could have access to medical history, allergies, medications, medical devices and emergency contacts.

Individuals can submit their information through a secure database accessible to authorized 911 agencies.

Any public safety agency can get access to the information from the RapidSOS Portal, a secure web-based tool, or through integration with their existing software, according to the company. More than 3,000 agencies serving over 250 million people currently have access to the data. 

Apple, Google, the MedicAlert Foundation and Uber also currently share emergency data through the RapidSOS platform, the company said.