App could save lives by connecting people having heart attack to help nearby, paramedics say

The Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service is asking the city for money to invest in an app called PulsePoint. It lets those trained in emergency response know the location of the person having an attack and the closest automated external defibrillator.

PulsePoint app would alert people trained in emergency response where a person is having a heart attack

Pulse Point is a phone app that alerts people trained in CPR if someone nearby is experiencing cardiac arrest. (

The Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service says a new app it wants the city to invest in could improve the survival rate for someone having a heart attack. 

The medical director for WFPS, Dr. Robert Grierson, says the app uses crowd sourcing to identify people in a public area who can provide CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation or administer an AED (automated external defibrillator). It would connect them with someone in distress who is having a cardiac arrest. Grierson says these people would be on the scene before an ambulance arrives.

"If you bring people quicker to a scene where someone is in a cardiac arrest who can perform CPR or get an AED from somewhere nearby, we should be able to improve the survival rates for out of hospital heart attacks," said Grierson.

Building database

Grierson says this app would be available for anyone to download but ideally it is being targeted to those already trained in CPR and AED.That would include off-duty professionals such as doctors, nurses, police officers, lifeguards and respiratory technicians. He says though in certain circumstances a person who has no training could be instructed over the telephone how to administer CPR.

A database of users willing to download PulsePoint could be recruited by an education campaign, said Grierson.  The app would be activated at the same time the 9-1-1 call comes in. PulsePoint is already up and running in the United States and in some jurisdictions in Canada. WFPS will also be participating in a national study that is looking  at the benefits of the app.

How it works

Grierson gives an example of how PulsePoint can save lives. An off-duty fire chief is having lunch in a cafe. Someone next door is having a heart attack. The app finds where the person suffering the heart attack is located, as well as the nearest AED. That information is then relayed to the off-duty fire chief at the same time that the 911 is dispatched. The fire chief could instruct the person she was having lunch with to go and get it. This would all happen before the ambulance arrives at the scene. 

"If someone drops from a cardiac arrest, your chance of survival declines by 10 per cent every minute. If you can get it two or three minutes before the ambulance arrives, you have increased the person's chance for survival," said Grierson. 

Asking city for money

The initial cost for PulsePoint, $82,500, is covered by a grant from the Canadian Institute for Health Research. WFPS is asking the city for $12,600 annually for ongoing costs. It has to be approved by city council. Grierson hopes the new app will be up and running in Winnipeg in the new year.