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March 12th, 2014 CAMBRIA ROTH | News Stories
 

Crowdsourcing CPR

A new app will cost Portland’s Fire Bureau $108,000. It won’t save money, but will it save lives?

news2_4019ILLUSTRATION: WW Staff
     
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Mayor Charlie Hales is asking the City Council to spend $108,000 on a smartphone app to notify Portlanders trained in CPR when someone nearby is having a heart attack. 

The proposal is part of a Hales initiative to launch new programs that will save taxpayers’ money over time.

But city records show the app, called PulsePoint, will probably not save taxpayers any money, and hasn’t saved any lives since it was introduced in a neighboring fire district one year ago.

Portland Fire Chief Erin Janssens, whose bureau proposed the idea, says the potential benefits of the app will outweigh its costs.

“I think to taxpayers and society there is a return on investment intrinsically, but it is hard to quantify,” Janssens says.

Hales set aside $1 million in his 2014 city budget for an Innovation Fund to invest in creative ideas that will save the city money in the long run.

The Portland City Council will vote March 12 to distribute $906,000 to seven Innovation Fund proposals.

The PulsePoint app, in addition to notifying people trained in CPR about nearby emergencies, will also identify the location of the nearest automated defibrillator. 

The costs include $20,000 over two years to license the app and another $63,000 for computer system support. The proposal also includes $10,000 to publicize the app and $15,000 for CPR classes.

The proposal before the City Council says the app will provide “no direct city cost benefit.”

“Saving money would be one of the criteria, but not the only criteria,” says Andrew Scott, Portland’s budget director. “The idea was to create efficiencies with the way the city does business, one of those ways being through saving money, but it was also created to find new and creative ways to better serve Portland residents through improving services.”

PulsePoint is used in 530 communities in 17 states. About 6,000 people have downloaded the app. 

Last January, Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue in Washington County became the first agency in Oregon to launch PulsePoint. 

Mark Charleston, Tualatin Valley’s battalion chief for emergency medical services, says it connects the app’s users with the fire department and cardiac arrest victims. 

“This app can be used in the event that no one around is willing to provide CPR, because some people do have that fear,” Charleston says. “It isn’t designed to be the primary response piece. It is more of a backup before we can get to the scene.” 

Charleston says his agency has no documented case of PulsePoint saving a life. Neither does his agency have concrete numbers for how often PulsePoint has brought citizens to the scene of a heart attack, but in the handful of cases in which it has, there was no need to perform CPR. 

PulsePoint is the invention of Richard Price, a California firefighter who says he was at lunch with friends in 2011 when EMS crews responded to a cardiac arrest in the building next door. He realized he could have helped by responding first if he had known.

Price says PulsePoint’s goal is to get CPR started earlier and defibrillators used more often. “Those are our primary metrics,” Price says, “and if you think getting CPR started more often and defibrillators out means more lives saved, that is what we focus on.”

Price says a total of 2,038 alerts have been sent through PulsePoint, but there are no statistics showing whether citizens responding to the alerts provided any real assistance, let alone saved a life.

Under the city’s proposal, Portland Fire & Rescue will have to keep statistics showing how often citizens responded to PulsePoint calls and what the outcome was. 

Janssens says her agency has one of the best survival rates for cardiac-arrest victims, and it hopes to increase that success even more. 

“The app is forward-leaning,” Janssens says. “We started looking into it two years ago, but it is difficult to get $100,000 with our budgets being very tight. This fund was an opportunity to do something different.” 

 
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