Every second counts after a heart attack. There is a golden moment where, if help is provided, someone may live. But if they do not receive medical support in those vital first minutes, the risk of death dramatically increases.

Singapore has built a smartphone app to alert all medically-trained citizens within 400 meters of a heart attack as soon as it is reported. This helps to provide support in those crucial minutes before the ambulance arrives, dramatically improving someone’s chances.

The app was built by a government team in the IDA, guided by the Singapore Civil Defence Force, to test out a concept and see if it could make a difference. This is the story of that app, and the results it has achieved.

What is it?

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The app is called myResponder, and was launched in April. It’s available for iPhone and Android, and has four useful features that assist throughout a heart attack.

First, users can dial 995 – Singapore’s emergency line – within the app. This provides an automatic GPS location to the emergency operator, ensuring that they can accurately send an ambulance. Sometimes, people give the wrong address when in an emergency, for example mixing up Pasir Panjang with Bukit Panjang.

That means the app is not just useful to first aiders, explains Mark Lim, head of Singapore’s Government Digital Services. It could be used by anyone in Singapore to ensure an ambulance reaches their exact location without delay.

Second, is its crowdsourcing function. The app pushes an alert to every first aider in the vicinity of an emergency. This combines with the app’s GPS function, ensuring that only those within 400 meters are alerted. And fourth, it guides the user to the emergency via the nearest defibrillator kit, giving an even greater chance for the heart attack patient.

How it was built

It took six months to build the app, from first ideas to execution, Lim says. His team is based in the IDA, and is set up to build conceptual apps where government agencies want to test ideas.
“Imagine if you are a public officer and you come up with this brilliant idea that you want to try,” he says. “If I told you: ‘Please go and [complete] all the paperwork’, and that takes six months, I think you will give up.” The Government Digital Services speeds that process along by rapidly prototyping “so that the idea doesn’t go to waste”.

The SCDF plans to increase the number of volunteers helping in emergencies, because the number of trained paramedics will always be limited. A team approached Lim to see if technology could help.

Lim’s team set up a workshop with SCDF officers and volunteers to plan scenarios. From hearing volunteer feedback, it became clear that first aiders would like a greater opportunity to help, and that an alert system would help them.

The GDS then applied “design thinking” to the problem, Lim says – using a series of techniques first put together by industrial design companies, and which are now being used in software development and service delivery.

First, they designed by empathy, he says. “We brought in the officers to make them feel like citizens. Strip down the rank, take your cap off your head and immerse yourself.” They role played as citizens, running through scenarios to understand how the app could help and what would be required for its users.


Strip down the rank, take your cap off your head and immerse yourself”

Second, they designed by experience. They tested their ideas on volunteers to see how the process would work, and what functions were really necessary. It was during this process that the idea of geolocating 995 calls came up. SCDF officers told of the problem of accidents being reported in the wrong location by panicking bystanders, reducing the likelihood of saving a life.

The third stage was to design by data. The team pulled together rudimentary designs of the app (without the underlying functions) to see whether users could understand how it worked and quickly respond in an emergency. They even tracked the eyeballs of volunteers as they looked at designs, to see which parts of the app stood out. This evidence would then be used to redesign the app and improve it.

What happened next?

Over a thousand first aiders have used the app, and it saved three lives in its first month of operation.

It is popular with existing first aiders, but the team would like to expand its operation. “We’re hoping to encourage more people to download the app, and sign up for training with the Singapore Heart Foundation,” Lim says.

The functionality of the app may also increase, he adds. Currently, they are looking at whether it could be used to support Singapore’s elderly people when they need assistance, although this is in the early stages.

The app was built by a small team, and for a fraction of the cost of tendering and building as a bigger project. Lim’s particularly proud of how the app finds only incidents in your vicinity. “It’s very difficult to write the algorithm, and the team did a good job. It wasn’t done by me: it was done by two very smart young ladies who wrote the code.”

His team stands ready to create other projects for agencies across Singapore’s government. All they need is a steady supply of ideas; and citizen feedback on what works.

But why not see for yourself? Download the app for iOS or Android phones.