The evolution of smartphones over the past decade has allowed millions to store everything from contacts and calendars to their favorite music on one easily accessible device. But what about life-saving information? Companies are now developing apps that allow individuals to store vital health data that can be easily accessed by emergency services personnel or physicians in case of an emergency.
“No one is immune to having an emergency,” said Dr. Bettina Experton, president and CEO of Humetrix, which late in 2013 debuted the ICEBlueButton app. “Kids playing sports or away from home at camp can have an accident and emergency personnel need to know if they have any medical conditions or life-threatening allergies.”
The app allows the user to create an ICE (In Case of Emergency) record for themselves and all family members. A QR code for each record can then be saved onto the smartphone’s lock screen and printed on a sticker or a magnet that can be placed on a refrigerator. The stickers can also be placed on a child’s bicycle helmet or car seat.
Using any QR scanner, EMS personnel are then able to scan the code and access the records created with the app. There is an in-app purchase of $2.99 per month or $19.99 per year to access its Auto-Alert feature. Should the QR code be scanned by EMS or medical personnel responding to an emergency, the Auto-Alert feature will automatically send an e-mail to the designated emergency contact. This could be particularly helpful for working parents and those who have an elderly relative nearby.
Experton noted that the app was not designed to capture the complete medical history of an individual, but to provide an overview of pertinent information that includes allergies and medications that are being taken on a regular basis.
“The user needs to create the records for each person they want to place on the app,” she said. “To help make that process easier we have included the names of about 75,000 different drugs to ensure the names of medications are spelled correctly.
For local governments across the nation, having medical information easily accessible during a time of emergency should allow EMS personnel to provide better care.
“We already have emergency medical professionals in the field advising people to download our app,” Experton said.
Cathy Chidester, director of the Los Angeles County Emergency Medical Services Agency, told the Los Angeles Times that while her agency and residents cannot anticipate emergencies, they can prepare for them.
One method of preparation for residents of Los Angeles County suggested by Chidester is keeping pertinent medical information handy using smartphone apps such as ICEBlueButton.
"I would like to see people have their basic information available for the paramedics," she said. "That would go a long way toward helping them save lives."
While utilizing the app is a decision for individuals, Experton noted that should ICEBlueButton become more popular, there is minimal training needed for medical personnel.
“Checking for a smartphone has really become part of the routine for the public health professional,” she said. “Years ago they would look for a wallet for ID when responding to an emergency. Now they know to look for a smartphone.”
Experton is also hoping the app will become part of the disaster preparedness information that is shared on the websites of national agencies such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The app was on display at the White House’s Disaster Response and Recovery Demo Day held on July 29, an event that brought together technologists, entrepreneurs and members of the disaster response community to showcase tools that will make a tangible impact in the lives of survivors of large-scale emergencies. Among the other companies and agencies on hand for the event was Airbnb, The American Red Cross, Google, Microsoft and The City of San Francisco.
In April, the ICEBlueButton app was awarded the Parent Tested Parent Approved (PTPA) Winner’s Seal of Approval from PTPA Media, a volunteer parent testing community.