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Magen David Adom app aims to streamline emergency response

My MDA can relay users’ location, medical info and send video from scene to dispatchers and first responders

Luke Tress is a video journalist and tech reporter for the Times of Israel

Illustrative: A Magen David Adom ambulance. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)
Illustrative: A Magen David Adom ambulance. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

Magen David Adom, Israel’s national emergency service, has developed an app that the organization hopes will fundamentally change how first responders communicate with civilians in emergency situations. The app, called My MDA, can instantly provide dispatchers and ambulance teams with the exact location of the user, medical information, and photos or a live video feed from the scene.

“We aim to save as much time as possible. I save time if I don’t need to ask where you are because I see you,” said Ido Rosenblat, MDA’s CIO. “I drop 20 seconds here, 40 seconds there. For someone who is in cardiac arrest, it’s very significant.”

My MDA will be highlighted at the organization’s annual New York Gala on Monday, December 12. The app is currently being used by about 30,000 Israelis and was first released in October.

In an emergency situation, an injured or sick person or a witness can use the app to quickly connect with MDA dispatchers. Users of the app pre-load whatever personal information they want to share with medical personnel, including their medical history, sensitivities to medications and other products, their most recent EKG results and whether they are hearing or speech impaired. The dispatchers can quickly see the location of the caller through the phone’s GPS or by triangulating the phone. They get the users’ information and can receive photos or a live video feed from the scene, and can decide which ambulance or personnel to send to the scene and which hospital they should head to.

My MDA gives users a direct line to Magen David Adom’s emergency dispatchers. (Courtesy)

“In every emergency dispatch center in the world, all the dispatchers are blind. They can talk and they can hear, but they don’t see,” Rosenblat said. “This is the first time in the world that the dispatchers can see the scene before the ambulance arrives.”

The dispatchers are also trained paramedics, so they can advise anyone at the scene on how to deal with the situation, and can begin to coordinate with nearby hospitals to receive patients that need immediate treatment.

Victims of accidents are often under extreme stress and cannot answer all the necessary questions, so having the information and imagery quickly available to dispatchers and ambulance teams is crucial, Rosenblat said. Hikers or tourists might not know exactly where they are, for example.

People at the site of the emergency can also use the app to see the ambulance approaching.

“A civilian who calls an ambulance, we want them to see how much time until the ambulance gets to him,” said Eli Bin, MDA’s Director-General. “It allows the civilian to calm down. He sees the ambulance is on its way to him, it will take another minute, he sees if there is traffic or not.”

The MDA team took the concept from transportation apps, and has integrated with Waze to see accidents along the way.

My MDA is free and available in six languages — Hebrew, Arabic, English, Russian, French and Amharic. If someone cannot speak and needs to use a chat feature to communicate with dispatchers, the app uses Google translate to automatically translate for the user and the dispatcher.

Users can also save information for family members in the app, such as elderly grandparents, and call emergency services for them.

My MDA stores users' medical information, and automatically translates messages between dispatchers and civilians at the scene of an emergency. (courtesy)
My MDA stores users’ medical information, and automatically translates messages between dispatchers and civilians at the scene of an emergency. (courtesy)

Amir Elichai, the founder and CEO of Reporty, an emergency response app backed by former prime minister Ehud Barak, has worked with MDA over the last couple of years. His company is moving into the American market, where a fractured and inefficient 911 system is estimated to cause thousands of deaths every year.

“The world is going to applications and these kinds of communications,” Elichai said. “People are starting to believe in the application as a way to communicate with first responders.”

The app has been used successfully already, Rosenblat said, recounting an accident in the town of Majdal Shams, in the Golan Heights. A 50-year-old man severed three of his fingers and sent in a photo of his hand. The dispatchers coordinated treatment with the teams sent to the site and at Ziv Medical Center in Safed, who were ready before the patient arrived, and the man’s fingers were successfully reattached.

“We want everyone to wait for the patient, so the patient doesn’t wait for everyone,” Rosenblat said.

My MDA will be featured at the organization’s annual gala, on Monday, December 12, in New York City. The event will be attended by former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, and will feature other developments from MDA, including a national blood bank being built in the city of Ramle.

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