VicHealth Letter 48 - App action

App action: how technology and connected communities are changing lives


Ambulance Victoria’s new GoodSAM smartphone app connects cardiac arrest cases with off-duty paramedics to bring expert assistance even more rapidly to people in need.


Keith Young was preparing dinner at home in Narre Warren South when the unthinkable happened: he blacked out, suffering a cardiac arrest. As reported by the ABC, his family called 000 and while they began CPR, off-duty paramedic Darren Murphy, at home just a few streets away, got an alert via a smartphone app. He was on the scene in minutes, providing skilled attention until the ambulance arrived.

The app is called GoodSAM – Good Smartphone Activated Medics – and paramedic organisations around the world, including Ambulance Victoria, are using the technology to provide critical help in emergencies while the ambulance is still on the way.

While the software behind the app is complex, the idea is simple: GoodSAM works to alert verified first-aid qualified people to nearby emergencies. For Ambulance Victoria the app is now being used specifically for cardiac emergencies.

‘The GoodSAM cardiac system being used by Ambulance Victoria is both a technology platform and a community of lifesavers,’ says Ali Ghorbangholi, the co-founder and technical director of GoodSAM.

‘People with the right first aid qualifications are able to register and download the GoodSAM responder app to their phone. If a registered responder is near to a cardiac arrest, the app will alert them to the incident, letting them head to the scene and offer assistance until the ambulance arrives.’


Integrated into the 000 call system


Ghorbangholi, fellow technical developer Ali Haddad and London’s Air Ambulance doctor, Mark Wilson developed GoodSAM and launched it in the UK in 2014. It’s been picked up by a number of countries including Brazil, India, New Zealand, South Africa – and now Australia.




With Ambulance Victoria, GoodSAM has been integrated directly into the organisation’s Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) system.

‘When a 000 call comes in and a cardiac arrest is suspected, an ambulance is dispatched to the scene in the usual way,’ explains Ghorbangholi. ‘At the same time, the GoodSAM platform is automatically given the location of the patient from the CAD.’

The app then sends an alert to the nearest first aid trained GoodSAM responders, asking them to attend the scene to offer highly skilled support before the arrival of the ambulance.

For the caller there is no discernible difference in the experience of dialling 000. ‘When you call 000 you go through the same structured, call-taking process that has been established to be safe and effective,’ says Mike Ray, Manager of Emergency Co-Responder Programs at Ambulance Victoria.

‘As soon as it’s identified as a cardiac arrest, the GoodSAM system is activated in the background – no further intervention in needed by the call taker or the dispatcher.’

This makes the process quick, with Ray saying that nearby responders can be alerted in around five seconds.

Every minute counts


Early response CPR for an out-of-hospital cardiac arrest has long been associated with a higher survival rate. ‘We know that early CPR and defibrillation really makes a difference, so for every minute that CPR and defibrillation is delayed, the chance of survival decreases by up to 10 per cent,’ says Ray. ‘What this community does in those minutes before paramedics arrive really makes a difference to a person’s chance of survival.’

Ambulance Victoria had identified a need for an app such as GoodSAM via the Global Resuscitation Alliance’s 10 Programs for improving patient outcomes from out-of-hospital cardiac events.


Smartphone instant alerts


Ambulance Victoria went to worldwide open tender for its app. While GoodSAM was ultimately successful, similar smartphone applications are in development around the world.

St John Ambulance in WA has developed its own St John First Responder app, as has the European Heart Rhythm Association with its EHRA First Responder app. Smartphone apps have even been trialled for pre-hospital clinician triage environments.

It’s part of a larger trend that sees technology being used to connect individuals online to make a positive difference in real-world communities. Vollie is an example, a Melbourne-based start-up that uses a digital platform to pair skilled volunteers with not-for-profit projects. Share Abode is another: an Australian database that allows single parents to come together to share rental properties, living costs and parental duties.

For Ambulance Victoria and GoodSAM, the process from tender through to implementation took around 12 months. Some work was required to integrate the app’s interface into Ambulance Victoria’s CAD system but time and effort was also invested into ensuring that the GoodSAM integration was as effective as possible.

For example, GoodSAM’s API (Application Programming Interface) constantly searches Ambulance Victoria’s CAD for more than 1900 words and phrases that might indicate that a GoodSAM responder is not required. As Ray explains, ‘We don’t want to be sending people to an inappropriate location, such as a nursing home, police station or some sort of controlled facility.’

GoodSAM also won’t send responders to cases where resuscitation may not be required, such as a palliative care facility where patients may have made specific requests not to be resuscitated in an emergency.


Help that’s close to home


The app has been operating since January and Ray notes that Keith Young is just one of many people who’ve had their lives impacted by GoodSAM, with more than 700 GoodSAM responders receiving an alert.

‘We get about 20 GoodSAM alerts a day through the system,’ he says. ‘In over 200 instances responders have been alerted and they have turned up to provide assistance in those cardiac arrest cases.

‘Keith Young was able to go home to his family and is alive to tell the tale. That’s what the program is about: people able to go home to their families and continue living a normal, healthy life.’