When rushing to the scene of a medical trauma, emergency caregivers rarely know exactly what awaits them.
But the same capability on your phone that lets you video chat with grandma or live stream a concert could give first responders a better sense of the trouble ahead.
Enter GoodSAM, which launched in mid-2014 as an app that lets you alert local medics and transmit your location. On Wednesday, the company added a live-streaming feature that provides an uninterrupted video feed to emergency services. GoodSAM, short for Good Smartphone Activated Medics, is in use around the world, including the UK, India, Malaysia, Australia and the US. The live-streaming tool, nicknamed Emergiscope, will be available globally.
By viewing the aftermath of a violent attack or car accident, first responders can potentially better assess the situation and determine the correct treatment, speeding their response time. It's the latest example of the increased integration of technology into medical care, which includes experiments in providing treatments remotely and even using virtual reality.
"It means patients can be seen before the emergency services even set off," said Dr. Mark Wilson, co-founder of the app and a neurosurgeon for London's Air Ambulance and St. Mary's Hospital.
The Air Ambulance team that Wilson works with deals with the most traumatic medical incidents across the British capital, where every minute knocked off the response time counts. In such scenarios, each bit of extra insight before the crew takes off is critical.
In a life-threatening emergency, an alerter can open the app and hit the "call for help" button. This will cause several things to happen simultaneously. It will put the alerter through to the local emergency services on the phone while sending out GPS signals to local registered responders, who will see an alert pop up on their own phones. When they open the app, they will automatically be able to see a real-time video of the scene streamed from the alerter's phone
This isn't the same kind of live stream you would get with Periscope. Given the nature of the emergencies, GoodSAM has put measures in place to ensure patient confidentiality. The video stream is secured with end-to-end encryption so that the pictures, audio and other data it relays cannot be intercepted by unauthorized meddlers, according to Ali Ghorbangholi, technical director at London-based GoodSAM.
Over 7,000 people across the world, including doctors, nurses and paramedics, have signed up with the service as trained and verified first responders. In addition, as of October, GoodSAM was also incorporated into the official dispatch system of the London Ambulance Service.
The app's creators are trying to get more ambulance services around the world to follow suit, which would give them access to the live-streaming feature. Funded by innovation-focused charity Nesta, GoodSAM is a nonprofit that has no exclusivity rights, so its technology can potentially be used by anyone, anywhere.
One challenge for GoodSAM, which is also a play on "Good Samaritan," is to persuade regular folks to use the app.
"Everyone who has a smartphone has a life-saving device in their pocket," said Wilson. "They just need to download the GoodSAM app in case they ever need to use it."
Still, it will ultimately take time and wider integration into established emergency response systems for awareness to spread.
The GoodSAM app has versions for iOS, Android and Windows Phone. The live-streaming feature is available on the iOS version of the app now and is coming to Android.