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July 20, 2011 // By Holly Auer // Comments

Save a Life With Your Cell Phone

Community // Education // Emergency Medicine // Health Care Quality and Safety // Heart Share this article

Myheartmap A group of Penn Medicine researchers is set to save lives with cell phones cameras -- and they're challenging the public to help. The MyHeartMap Challenge, a contest that will launch this fall, is sending thousands of Philadelphians to the streets to locate as many automated external defibrillators (AEDs) as they can find. Armed with a free app installed on their mobile phones, contest participants will snap pictures of the lifesaving devices -- which are used to restore cardiac arrest victims' hearts to their normal rhythm -- wherever they see them, and use the app to tag the photos with location information and details about the device like its color and manufacturer. Then, they'll send them to the research team via the app itself or the project's web site. The stakes are high: People who find the most AEDs will win cash prizes, and the fruits of their efforts will save lives in the key minutes following cardiac arrest. Anyone can participate.

Led by Dr. Raina Merchant, an emergency physician and resuscitation expert at Penn, the Philadelphia contest is just a first step in what the group hopes will grow to become a nationwide AED registry project that will put access to AEDs in the hands of anyone, anywhere, anytime. Individuals and teams can register to participate, and the Penn group is hopeful that participants will have fun with the contest -- maybe organizing AED scavenger hunts, mini-contests to locate all the AEDs in a workplace building, or taking on their friends to see who can find the most devices. Merchant hopes word of the contest will spread over Facebook and Twitter, with the power of social media mixing with the power of a mobile app to create the first comprehensive log of AEDs all over Philly.

Unlike implantable medical devices like pacemakers and artificial knees and joints whose model or serial numbers are reflected in a patient's medical record, in order to notify them in the event of a manufacturer's recall or other problem, AEDs are not subject to regulations that would allow their makers to know where or when their devices are being used. Instead, anyone can buy the devices (they cost about $1,500), but what they do with them after that is anyone's guess. A grateful cardiac arrest survivor, for instance, might buy one for their gym to keep on hand -- but if no one at the gym knows where it is, or that it's on site at all, its lifesaving powers can't be counted on in an emergency. There's an estimated one million AEDs across the nation, hung clearly on the walls in airports and casinos, but also tucked away in restaurant closets and under the cash register in coffee shops. The Penn contest aims to catalog all those devices and build an app using the database of AED locations which will link to a person's GPS coordinates and help them locate the nearest AED during an emergency.

MyHeartMap Challenge is among a growing trend toward using crowd-sourcing to find solutions to troubling problems in health care. A Philadelphia Inquirer story this week detailed a ´╗┐contest in which members of the public developed algorithms to better predict which HIV patients would respond to drug therapy, which has helped extend patients' lives so much that the virus is now often considered a manageable, chronic disease, like diabetes. The winner's work predicted outcomes with 78 percent accuracy -- besting scientists' formula that had only 70 percent accuracy.

But it's not only pulling in the participation of the public that stands to make an impact on the toll of cardiac arrest. The technology used in the contest is fuel, too, to empower the bystanders to take action to help victims -- make it easy and quick to do so. Merchant is also involved in the development of a cell phone app to coach people through the steps of CPR, which many people say they're afraid to do because they worry that if they don't follow a precise set of instructions, they'll do more harm than good.

But without an AED, even a trained rescuer can't save someone in cardiac arrest, which typically kills within minutes without CPR and defibrillation. Mike Hoaglin, now a fourth-year medical student at Penn, already knew how to do CPR back in April when he came across a man in cardiac arrest on a busy Center City Philadelphia sidewalk. He and a nurse on the scene -- still in her scrubs from work -- began CPR once they determined the man had no pulse, but the person they sent to find an AED -- which they knew was also essential for resuscitating the man -- didn't have any luck. A nearby drugstore and restaurants turned up nothing. Minutes passed as Hoaglin and the other bystanders continued performing CPR and waited for an ambulance to arrive. Finally, a fellow Penn Med student, Katie Dillon, arrived on the scene with an AED after remembering that her apartment close by kept one of the devices at the front desk. With a shock from the AED and continued CPR, the man's pulse returned even before the ambulance arrived, and following bypass surgery to re-route blood supply to his heart, he returned home doing well. But those tense minutes could have been narrowed to just a few seconds with the help of a tool like Merchant's team hopes to create.

Sign up now on the MyHeartMap Challenge web site to stay in the loop about the contest, download the mobile app once it becomes available, and join the challenge to save lives with your cell phone.

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