Saving Lives with Distributed Intelligence

One of the general features of information technology is that through coordination it makes better use of distributed resources, such as workers, automobiles or energy. An excellent case in point is being tested in Stockholm, Sweden. SMSlivräddare (in Swedish) has a large list of people who are trained in cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). When an emergency call is received indicating a possible heart attack, SMSlivräddare finds the mobile phone user(s) closest to the potential victim and alerts them with a text message. The message also contains a map to the victim’s location.

Survival rates for heart attack outside a hospital in Sweden are low, only about 5-10% but every minute shaved off the time it takes to begin CPR increases the survival rate by 10%. When notified, SMS responders arrive faster than ambulances about 50% of the time so the potential for saving lives is quite large (final data on the research project are not yet in).

Could such a system work in the United States? Maybe, a similar but more passive app is available in a few locations. Legal issues are a threat. Good Samaritan laws offer some protection although they often apply only to medical professionals. The threat, however, is not really to the responder but to the service. It’s interesting to watch Shark Tank, anytime a medical entrepreneur makes an appearance the sharks run away for fear of liability. Still, if the service were attached to a hospital and integrated with ambulances services, it ought to be possible to be insulated but this will require significant political entrepreneurship.

Hat tip: Connor Tabarrok.


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