November 03, 2012

LOS ANGELES — Participants in a "crowdsourcing" challenge were able to find, photograph, and map more than 1400 automated external defibrillators (AEDs) in the city of Philadelphia using a smartphone app, researchers told the American Heart Association 2012 Scientific Sessions today [1].

As detailed previously on heartwire , the competition--for members of the public--was the brainchild of a group of emergency-medicine physicians striving to identify the locations of all AEDs in public places in the city and was dubbed the MyHeartMap Challenge.

Although AEDs have become increasingly available in public places, there is no centralized database showing where they are, and their use in emergencies remains low, explained lead author Dr Raina Merchant (University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia). "An estimated one million AEDs have been sold throughout the country, but because they are not subject to the same FDA regulations as implantable medical devices, we need to map their location."

In the challenge, more than 313 teams and individuals found the AEDs in more than 500 buildings throughout Philadelphia. The buildings included gyms (19%), schools (16%), and offices (11%). Individuals or teams who found the most AEDs received monetary prizes. The AED locations provided by the participants were validated using GPS technology.

We found people were very true and accurate in reporting where these devices were, and that's encouraging for the future.

"One of the most important things we learned is about the data validity," Merchant told heartwire . "We had worried about creating a database where, worse than not knowing the device is there, you might send someone to a location where the device doesn't exist. We found people were very true and accurate in reporting where these devices were, and that's encouraging for the future."

Merchant reported the findings in a poster here and also spoke at a press conference this morning.

So Much for the "Digital Divide"; Older People Most Likely to Participate

Demographic information revealed that many participants were from within the medical field and, unexpectedly, says Merchant, those who submitted the most entries were in the 40- to 65-years age range, "which we were really surprised by, because we had marketed so much toward a younger group," she explained.

"We also learned people were most likely to participate in a task that was simple. Our task was actually rather complicated, so I think for the future we will focus on a platform that just involves one or two steps, a much more straightforward project. In this day and age, people like something that requires one or two clicks and less complexity."

The data collected will be used to create a new mobile app to help bystanders locate the nearest AED during emergencies and for 911 operators to direct bystanders to AEDs while paramedics are en route to the scene.

"Each AED located during the MyHeartMap Challenge represents an opportunity to save lives," Merchant says. "We found that when there is a CV health task, people are really interested to participate, and crowdsourcing is a feasible approach for identifying AED locations throughout a major city."

The aim is to eventually extend the competition to other cities in the US, and there is no reason why the concept could not be applied anywhere in the world, says Merchant. In fact, the idea was partly inspired by existing websites, such as and, which show the locations of a few AEDs in the US and many more in some countries, such as the Netherlands, she notes.

The study was funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health & Society Scholars Program at the University of Pennsylvania and AED manufacturers Physio-Control, Zoll Medical, Cardiac Science, and Philips Medical. Additional funding was provided by the Medtronic Foundation Heart Rescue Project, the Penn University Research Fund, and the McCabe Fund. Merchant reports receiving a research grant from the National Institutes of Health. Disclosures for the coauthors are listed in the abstract.