A new digitally-enabled life-saving service puts callers phoning from the scene of a medical emergency face-to-face with trained Netcare 911 emergency healthcare providers to demonstrate and guide them through the cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) technique until paramedics arrive.

Particularly since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, members of the public may be hesitant to perform mouth-to-mouth resuscitation on anyone other than an immediate family member in an emergency – however this aspect is no longer considered necessary.

“Few people are aware that CPR does not require mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, as recent findings show ‘hands only’ CPR can be as effective as the traditional technique involving giving the patient rescue breaths,” says Shalen Ramduth, Netcare 911’s operations director.

The American Heart Association now recommends that members of the public perform ‘hands only’ CPR using chest compressions alone if an adult collapses and they are not in a healthcare setting.

“Even if you have never done CPR before, Netcare 911’s national emergency operations centre [EOC] is putting life-saving skills into the hands of the public with this new, innovative application of telehealth video call technology,” says Zita van Zyl, Netcare 911’s critical care operations manager.

When a caller reports an emergency requiring CPR to Netcare 911’s EOC on 082 911, the co-ordinator immediately initiates the video calling process by sending the caller a link via SMS which connects to a live secure video platform. The caller clicks on the link to connect with the Netcare 911 emergency care providers, enabling them to see and hear each other.

“A second qualified health provider, a registered nurse or paramedic, then demonstrates the relevant CPR technique for an adult, child or an infant on an appropriately sized mannequin representing the patient at our designated and specially equipped Telehealth CPR station at our EOC. All the while, a case manager coaches the caller to copy their actions to perform CPR correctly on the patient at the scene.

“Thanks to the visual element of the two-way video link, the caller can more accurately follow the CPR technique required, while our ‘CPR coach’ provides informed and detailed feedback to the caller to guide their CPR efforts.

“In this way, it is possible for the caller to replicate the CPR actions, with the necessary depth and rate of chest compressions to keep the patient’s blood circulating to their vital organs until professional help arrives on scene,” she says.

The video link furthermore makes it possible for the EOC coordinators and healthcare practitioners to do a more detailed immediate assessment of the patient remotely, which can be significant for clinical decision making and help in the co-ordination of resources to evacuate the patient using the most effective transport modality available.

“Through this easy-to-use service, we hope more South Africans will gain the confidence to get involved to assist a person in need of life-saving resuscitation. It is less daunting to attempt CPR if you can copy a professional’s actions, and all the time the caller is being encouraged and coached through every step to help ensure they are doing it correctly, even if the caller has had no prior training,” Ramduth adds.

“This can buy precious time to save the heart and brain by keeping the blood supply moving around the patient’s body until paramedics are on scene to take over, which can improve outcomes exponentially.”

The Netcare 911 live video link telehealth service is provided through the secure Netcare VirtualCare platform, with all data encrypted to protect the caller, ensure patient privacy and protect confidential information. Using the platform does not require an app to be downloaded and is very user friendly, yet secure.

“In emergency medical situations, applying technology in this innovative way can help to save many more lives and inspire more South Africans with the knowledge to lend a hand with ‘hands only’ CPR if the need arises,” Ramduth concludes.