“It’s natural to help”. The panic button could save the life of 600 people with hearing impairments

de: Fundaţia Vodafone România November 28, 2016

Târgu Mureș, the dispatch center of the Samaritanus Private Ambulance Service. An acoustic signal, followed by the opening of a window on the screens in front of the operators: “I am deaf and I need medical assistance. You can see my address on the map, in the submitted message”. This is followed by the name and phone number of the person.

One of the operators accesses from the database the medical file of the caller. The person has a history of heart conditions. The GPS indicates the location of the person with a hearing impairment who has triggered the “panic button”. In less than three minutes, a team including a doctor leaves towards the marked location.

As many as 600 people with hearing impairments, from six different counties, have access to the “panic button”, a smartphone app developed by the Romanian Samaritans’ Association and the Samaritanus Ambulance Service in Târgu Mureș, within the project “SOS deafness”, which provides people with such impairments access to emergency medical services.

The real-time communication and warning system operates through predefined messages.

The project funded by the Vodafone Romania Foundation through the program “Connecting for Good”, allows the users to access a specialized, dedicated, 24/7 call-center.

“For these people, the capacity to communicate is reduced to sign language, and the absence of a fluent speaker near them makes it impossible for them to ask for help in emergency situations. We have managed to intervene in time, during the last two years, in 50 critical medical cases. For cases beyond our competence, we call 112”, said Varga Zsigmond, project coordinator.

When a person with a hearing impairment triggers one of the four panic buttons provided in the smartphone app, the caller’s number appears at the dispatch center of the Samaritanus Ambulance Service, along with the medical history and location of the person.

“One of our first cases was one of domestic violence. A woman had been stabbed. We got there in time, took her to the hospital and her life was saved”, Varga Zsigmond claims.

In Romania, there are 21,000 people with hearing impairments, according to the data from the Samaritans’ Association, and 600 of them have the app “SOS deafness” installed on their smartphone. The members of associations gathering people with such impairments receive, through the program funded by the Vodafone Romania Foundation, social subscriptions and smartphones, to be able to install the app which could save their life.

“We help them install the app. We tell them how to use it in emergency situations. When they have a medical problem, which is not an emergency, we encourage them to communicate through sign language with our colleague from the dispatch center. Through him, our on-call physician can instruct them what to do, if they are unable to reach their family physician”, the project initiator told us. His daughter Andrada and son Horațiu have joined his work. The team includes six physicians and eight nurses, working in shifts.

“It’s normal to help. Since I was 18, I began helping people with hearing impairments. We’re talking about people who cannot ask for help in case of an emergency. After the app was released, we received requests from almost every county. The app was very well received, people have been very open. It was a relationships without barriers”, Andrada Varga told us.

The installation of the app is performed upon request, based on a consent form signed by the beneficiary. Moreover, it is required that the family physician confirms the chronic diseases in the beneficiary’s medical history.

Through the same app, people with hearing impairments can call for help when they are the victims or witnesses of a fire or a traffic accident. In total, the app is provided with four buttons: SOS Medical, SOS Public Order, SOS Firefighters and SOS Traffic accident witness.

In the future, the initiator of the project aims to expand the use of the app countrywide, to 1,000 people with hearing impairments.

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