Three researchers trying to gain seconds

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In the event of acute illness or danger, there can be little or no time. Meet three researchers who want to use the time before help arrives more effectively.  

“Tracking mobile phones could save lives”

Name: Linus Bengtsson.

Title: Physician and researcher at the Department of Public Health Sciences

Researches: How mobile phone data can make disaster aid more effective. 

“In the wake of a disaster, there are always great migratory flows. This make the efforts to quickly get essential help out to those in need more difficult. In connection to the disastrous earthquake in Haiti in 2010, we started a research project with the aim of monitoring the subsequent migratory flows. I was able to set up a collaboration with the major mobile phone operator in Haiti, and we were given access to their registered calls in an anonymous format, containing information concerning the location from which the call had been made. This allowed us to see the movements of two million mobile phones in Haiti both before and after the earthquakes.

When the cholera outbreak hit ten months later, we already had a system in place. It was satisfying to see how the millions of data entries we had on our screens could be transformed into meaningful maps, which were then used directly in the rescue efforts.

I was part of starting up the foundation Flowminder, where we implement these lessons on a greater scale in poor countries, currently in Nepal. I am fascinated that it is possible to help people on such an enormous scale at this social level, and I find a special appeal in the real-time element, as it is so far removed from what we normally do within public health, where studies are planned years in advance and the results are presented long afterwards.”

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 “A matter of life and death how the call is received”

Name: Katarina Bohm.

Title: Associate Professor at the Department of Clinical Research and Education at Södersjukhuset

Researches: How acute illness is communicated and identified by the emergency service centre.

“The emergency service centre is the first link of the healthcare chain if we fall acutely ill, and it therefore constitute an important part of the health services. In order to get the right resources to reach the right person, and at the right time, good communication is required from the first contact. Whether things turn out well depends on both the emergency operator and the caller. The best scenario is when the patient is able to talk. If you call on behalf of someone else, it is preferable to remain next to the person in question, so that you can describe the circumstances in the best way.

As an emergency operator, you gain time by trying to calm individuals under stress or by getting petrified and scared people to act. It is important to keep an open mind and to be a good listener. It is not simply a matter of what is being said, but how. In normal communication, we use all of our senses, but in this case you have to rely on your hearing.

In my research I have taken a closer look at certain medical situations where time is of the essence, such as stroke, septicaemia and heart failure. In order to speed up the assessment and increase the accuracy of the calls, we have initiated a new project to look at whether it is possible, with the help of technology, to transfer images, for example of an injury, from the callers smartphone to the emergency operator. It can also be a question of identifying key words that are often used, so that the operator can quickly ask further questions as soon as these words turn up. Within an international collaboration, we have asked questions to twenty European countries about how their emergency service centre handle calls concerning heart failures. Every country has a different procedure, and we can learn from one another.

Irrespective of what effective technical solutions we have, it all falls apart if we cannot achieve good communication. Increased knowledge in this area can save lives and reduce suffering. That feels inspiring and important.”

 “With simple methods, we can save more lives”

Name: Jacob Hollenberg.

Title: Cardiologist and Associate Professor at Södersjukhuset, as well as research leader at the Centre for Resuscitation Science..

Researches: The benefit of a quick response to patients in life-threatening conditions, such as heart failure. This research involves the entire care chain, from the home to the ambulance and on to the emergency and intensive care units at the hospital. 

 “The first few minutes after a heart failure are absolutely crucial. It is therefore important to find new methods of making sure help arrives on time.

In our research, we have seen that cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) while waiting for an ambulance doubles the chances of survival. We also see a clear connection between the number of people trained in CPR and the proportion of resuscitation attempts, and by extension the number of survivors.

In order to get more people to do CPR training, we need to talk about these issues and to defuse them. It is, for example, important that we manage to reach the public with the simple message that the worst thing to do in the event of a heart failure is to do nothing at all. One method that has increased the proportion of patients who receive CPR while awaiting the ambulance is the ‘SMS-lifesaver’ system, where mobile positioning is used to send volunteer lifesavers to patients suffering a heart failure.

In my opinion, schools, workplaces and public institutions should offer their employees CPR training and always have a heart starter on hand. As a cardiologist, I have felt frustrated that so many people die in this condition each year in Sweden. It has made me passionate about the fact that, with relatively simple methods, we can save more lives.”

Text: Ann-Cathrine Johnsson, first published in the magazine Medical Science, no 3, 2015.