Tech

You're more likely to survive cardiac arrest in Denmark thanks to an app

The system sends volunteers racing to the scene to perform CPR until an ambulance arrives. But, despite its success, America is unlikely to adopt a similar approach.

24 April 2021, Brandenburg, Falkensee: Volunteer instructor Anja Mudlagk (l) and first aid instructor Sabine Zade from the Arbeiter-Samariter-Bund (ASB) demonstrate resuscitation with the use of a defibrillator on a resuscitation manikin in a first aid course. Due to the Corona pandemic, many first-aid courses in Brandenburg had to be cancelled or reduced. Photo: Jens Kalaene/dpa-Zentralbild/dpa (Photo by Jens Kalaene/picture alliance via Getty Images)
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One of the biggest challenges to overcoming fatalities from cardiac arrest is actually reaching patients in those first few minutes after a collapse. The difference between five minutes and 10 can significantly alter the odds of survival, or of long-term repercussions. But most cardiac arrests happen in a home, and it can take ambulances too long to get to those afflicted.

Crowdsourced help — A novel solution used in Denmark was reported on by The Washington Post this week. It uses a smartphone-based volunteer system to speed up the process. Anyone in the country can sign up for the Heartrunner app, and then when medical services are contacted about a collapse, dispatchers alert both medical services and up to 20 volunteers within a 1.1-mile radius of the event. The app then guides volunteers to a nearby automatic defibrillator machine, and finally on to the victim.

The system isn’t perfect — an actual arrest event needs to be witnessed by someone. But according to the Post, in Denmark the survival rate for out-of-hospital cardiac arrest has increased from 4 percent to 16 percent in the past 20 years. That’s depressingly low, but in the U.S. the survival rate is even worse, at just 9.6 percent.

Litigious America has other challenges — Around 70 percent of cardiac arrests take place in residences in the United States, and a similar app called PulsePoint already exists here. But concerns about accepting untrained volunteers into private homes are said to be a leading factor preventing similar apps from taking off in large numbers.

One obvious explanation might be people are worried they’ll get sued if they administer care and mess it up. That’s already addressed by Good Samaritan laws that exist in every state to give liability protection to anyone who renders emergency care in good faith. But Americans are suspicious of one another, especially where something as sensitive as healthcare is concerned. There are also the safety concerns that come with letting strangers into one’s home.

You see similar dynamics in much of China, where many people won’t help someone who’s fallen on the street out of distrust that the person is going to try and con them out of money.

Scandinavian countries also just generally have a much stronger social safety net and fabric, like universal healthcare. Citizens are willing to pay into these systems so that everyone has access to care, unlike the U.S.’s notorious everyone-for-themselves approach. It’s hard to see many strangers willing to enter someone else’s private residence to administer care. The GOP in particular probably can’t understand the idea of helping anyone, let alone a stranger. Isn’t that why they put straps on boots?