Emergency: app alerts first responders

Interview with Dr. Ralf Stroop, neurosurgeon and emergency medicine physician and chairperson of the Mobile Rescue Society (Verein Mobile Retter).


Just a few minutes can make the difference between life and death when a person loses consciousness or goes into sudden cardiac arrest. Unfortunately, emergency medical services cannot always be on location as fast as needed. To ensure immediate life-sustaining measures, the "mobile rescue" (Mobile Retter) app was developed in Germany, which alerts emergency medical responders in the immediate vicinity of an emergency.
Photo: Dr. Ralf Stroop

Dr. Ralf Stroop was the founder of the app "Mobile Retter" © mobile-retter.de

In this interview with MEDICA.de, inventor and emergency physician Dr. Ralf Stroop explains how he came up with the idea for the app, what requirements first responders need to meet and the data protection status for all parties involved.

Dr. Stroop, you created the "mobile rescue" app. How does it work?

Stroop: When a person goes into cardiac arrest, for example, ideally another person immediately calls emergency services by dialing 911 (112 in Germany). On average, it takes between seven and ten minutes until the rescue services arrive. Sometimes it might be too late at that point to help. The emergency call center informs qualified first responders near the patient who have installed the “mobile rescue” app and registered about the emergency. Because he is close-by, the rescuer can be faster at the site and take immediate measures before emergency medical services arrive.

How did you come up with the idea for this app?

Stroop: I am an emergency physician in a rural area. Since the nearest hospital is typically far away, there can be long wait times until the emergency physician arrives. After I once heard the ambulance arrive in my neighborhood after hours, I suddenly realized that I could have provided first aid on-site much faster if only I would have been informed. Since everyone always has their smartphones on them these days, you can utilize this technology to save lives.

What requirements do you need to meet to register as a medical emergency responder?

Stroop: Aside from emergency physicians and emergency workers, lifeguards, nurses, paramedics or firefighters also meet the requirements to act as first responders on a voluntary basis. It’s essential that people have medical training or perform a voluntary service or have a job that almost certainly leads to being involved in emergency medical services. At first, all emergency medical responders are being tested. Depending on people’s qualifications, they need to take part in training courses and instruction by the Mobile Rescue Society before their first assignment.

Obviously, our mobile rescuers don’t need to be on standby all the time. The app has a pause feature with which you can set service times.

Foto: Hand holds a smartphone, four pictures in the background with rescue situations; &copy mobile-retter.de

If the mobile rescuer get an alert, he has 20 seconds to confirm the mission, otherwise the nearest first aider gets an alert; © mobile-retter.de

How many emergency medical responders have already registered?

Stroop: At this point, there are several districts that use the system. This includes the districts of Gütersloh, Germersheim and as of late also the rural district of Unna. As of May of 2016, there were more than 600 registered mobile first responders in these three districts.

So far, more than 650 assignments were successfully completed. Two people would have died without the immediate actions by emergency first responders.

Can the app be installed on any smartphone?

Stroop: The "mobile rescue" app can be installed on any smartphone with an Android or the iOS operating system by Apple. At present, we are working on Windows phone users to also be able to use this app.

How well does the navigation work with the smartphone?

Stroop: We use the integrated GPS system available in every smartphone. If the first responder is not familiar with the area, he will be navigated to the location. Our app uses Google Maps and the route planner for this like many people also do every day.

When the GPS function is continuously activated, data is constantly being recorded. How can data protection be ensured?

Stroop: Every mobile first responder has been informed beforehand that he intermittently sends location data to the control center by activating the GPS function. This data is encrypted on the server and only the responsible control center receives it. The data about the patient and his current whereabouts is also protected. Only the control center, as well as the alerted first responder on assignment, learn about the exact location. Without the continuous data exchange, the app would not be able to serve its purpose.

Why has app coverage not been expanded nationwide?

Stroop: We are presently in constant dialog with other districts and cities that are interested in the app. The expansion is still not as dynamic as we have hoped. Many interested parties have doubts about data protection and insurance coverage issues. This is why we host a major symposium in Gütersloh at June 16th, to educate interested parties about the actual situation and the advantages. Our goal is to expand this network all over Germany and Europe. Thanks to the mobility, a registered first responder from Germersheim could come to the rescue of a person in Berlin for example if he happens to be there at the time. According to the German Resuscitation Council, approximately 10,000 people could be saved each year with immediate life-saving measures. At present, the German Rescue Service manages to rescue about 5,000 lives. We want to considerably increase this number with the "mobile rescue" app.

More information (only in German) about the application at: www.mobile-retter.de
Photo: Lorraine Dindas

© B. Frommann

The interview was conducted by Lorraine Dindas and translated from German by Elena O'Meara.