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EmergenciesSmartphones can save life in health emergencies

Published 28 August 2014

MAs more Americans adopt smartphones for communicating, managing calendars, and storing contacts, but these all-in-one devices could also be used to save lives in health emergencies. Companies are developing apps that allow users to store health data which can then be accessed by emergency services personnel or physicians.

More Americans adopt smartphones for communicating, managing calendars, and storing contacts, but these all-in-one devices could also be used to save lives in health emergencies. Companies are developing apps that allow users to store health data which can then be accessed by emergency services personnel or physicians. “No one is immune to having an emergency,” said Dr. Bettina Experton, president and CEO of Humetrix, which late in 2013 launched the ICEBlueButton app. “Kids playing sports or away from home at camp can have an accident and emergency personnel need to know if they have any medical conditions or life-threatening allergies.”

Government Technology reports that the app was on display at the White House’s Innovation for Disaster Response and Recovery Demo Day on 29 July. The event brought together innovators in the disaster response community to showcase tools that may help save lives in large-scale emergencies.

The $2.99 per month or $19.99 per year app allows users to create an In Case of Emergency (ICE) record for themselves and family members. A QR code for each record can be saved onto the smartphone’s lock screen, or printed on a sticker that can be placed on a car seat or a child’s bicycle helmet. Upon arriving on the scene of an emergency, EMS personnel can use any QR scanner to scan the code and access the records created with the app. The app also offers an Auto-Alert feature that automatically sends an email to the designated emergency contact should the QR code be scanned by EMS or medical personnel responding to an emergency.

“We already have emergency medical professionals in the field advising people to download our app,” Experton said. Cathy Chidester, director of the Los Angeles County Emergency Medical Services Agency, recommends apps such as ICEBlueButton to residents of Los Angeles County. She told the Los Angeles Times, “I would like to see people have their basic information available for the paramedics,” she said. “That would go a long way toward helping them save lives.”

Experton acknowledges that more emergency personnel would need to be aware of the app for it to become widely effective. She also noted that there is minimal training needed for medical personnel if they have a QR scanner. “Checking for a smartphone has really become part of the routine for the public health professional,” she said. “Years ago they would look for a wallet for ID when responding to an emergency. Now they know to look for a smartphone.”

In April, ICEBlueButton was awarded the Parent Tested Parent Approved (PTPA) Winner’s Seal of Approval from PTPA Media, a volunteer parent testing community. Experton hopes the app will be recommended by disaster preparedness agencies such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.