The sight of an ambulance loudly—and often unsuccessfully—trying to navigate its way through traffic is a familiar sight in India. Indeed, swift medical intervention is hindered at several levels — lack of infrastructure, logistical issues, insufficient emergency personnel and equipment.
A Hyderabad-based healthcare startup has devised a way to engage citizens to make sure that no medical emergency goes unattended.
Presenting 100K First Response, a network of citizens trained to respond to medical emergencies in their localities, which launched in Hyderabad recently.
100K First Response is an extension of CallAmbulance, a medical facilitation app spearheaded by Umashankar Adi Kotturu and Jagadish Vishwanatham. It was, in fact, a medical emergency that laid the seeds of Call Ambulance.
Uma, co-founder and CEO of CallAmbulance, recalls, “My partners and I were travelling from Hyderabad to Warangal, and came across a terrible accident on the way. A truck had collided into a two-wheeler and both drivers were severely injured. We stepped in to help, but it took us an hour to find an ambulance and instruct the driver to reach the right place. The experience got us thinking of what we could do to make sure.”
The duo began the research and made what Uma calls an alarming discovery. While most people assume that road accidents make for the most ambulance calls, Uma and Jagadish found that it was in fact cardiac arrests that leads to more medical emergencies in India and has only about 1% survival estimate. Pregnancy and child care are other two areas that often require emergency medical intervention.
Based on their research, Uma and Jagadish laid the foundation of CallAmbulance. The app calls an ambulance, sharing the location for faster pickup, keeps a tab on health history and insurance providers and a personal network of compatible blood types. As the company states about the app, it is “medical assistance at your finger tips.”
The newly launched 100K First Responders network is one of the most crucial elements of this fast-tracked medical assistance initiative.
With this project, the CallAmbulance team want to build a network of individuals spread across cities — in every neighbourhood — who are trained to provide basic medical assistance to the sick and injured till the ambulance arrives.
“We realised we needed a brigade to achieve our goal,” Uma says. “Basic first aid, CPR and techniques of stopping blood loss aren’t very difficult and can be learnt in just a few hours. Many a cardiac arrest has proved fatal because CPR wasn’t administered on time — these simple skills can save lives.”
The 100K First Response programme trains volunteers in basic medical skills and adds them to the network.
In case of an accident or medical emergency, the CallAmbulance app notifies responders within a 1km area. Any of the volunteers can choose to respond and offer medical intervention to the victims.
The network of volunteers are trained by city-based hospital units. “We have tied up with 60 hospitals in Hyderabad,” says Uma. “We manage the coordination and logistics while the hospital teams train each group of volunteers.”
With their first announcement, the CallAmbulance team received close to 1,500 queries, not only from Hyderabad but all over Telangana and cities as far-flung as Mumbai. So far, 250 volunteers in Hyderabad have already received training and the team hopes to meet their target of creating a one hundred thousand-strong network by the middle of this year.
Uma and his team seek volunteers from all walks of life. “Our primary target audiences are drivers, who are often first witnesses to road accidents,” says Uma recounting the heart-rending stories that drivers have shared with him. “One of the drivers mentioned to me how he got into an accident two years back and ended up running away because he was afraid. Had it been today, he could have not only helped him, but taken him to the hospital in his own vehicle.
In addition to drivers, corporate employees are another target area for the CallAmbulance team and they have a target of training 3% of the employees in all major IT firms. Students and women are also encouraged to apply for the training, which Uma considers an empowering life skill.
Citing examples of the USA and Israel, Uma says that having first responders can do much to bring down the response time for medical emergencies in the country. Israel boasts an impressive three-minute response time; while reaching such a target may be a stretch, having a response time for 10 to 15 minutes in India would suffice greatly.
Once the project is successfully implemented in Hyderabad, the CallAmbulance team aims to expand in other parts of the country.
“We aim to have 100K first responders in every major city, all over the country in two years,” Uma says of his team’s ambitious plan for the brand.
Having a network of medically trained volunteers in each city can make a world of difference in a country like India where many a death occurs simply on the way to hospitals or awaiting medical help.
Using technology to empower both consumers and healthcare professionals has been a deeply rewarding journey for the duo. “We were both corporate employees, and eventually quit the job as we wanted to do something that had a real social impact,” Uma says, adding with a laugh, “We may never go back to our corporate salaries, but the satisfaction this work gives us is unparalleled.”