Thursday, October 29, 2015

Ever needed blood during an emergency? There may be an easy way to find it...

How many times have you come across people faced with a situation where they need a few blood units of a particular blood group for an emergency medical procedure and they are left with no option but to call up all their relatives and check for availability?

There were probably days when someone in the joint family would rise to the occasion, but today's nuclear families stay far away from their hometown in pursuit of career or any other reason. Friends and neighbors would often come to the rescue but how often do we know their blood groups? Much time would be wasted in brute force method of contacting as many acquaintances as possible. 

Social media has come to the rescue and there are many Facebook and Google Groups (and several others) dedicated to the cause. These work on the principle of broadcasting the message for emergency requirement of blood with the specifics like blood group and contact information provided. Further the receivers of this information are likely to propagate the information to a larger crowd by sharing the posts or forwarding the emails. Manual intervention is a must for this to work. Also, with Facebook and Gmail flooded with other posts and emails, it is very likely that a prospective donor might not see the message in time. This channel is also not capable of selectively sending out the information to the relevant population, i.e. people with the required blood group only.

In an era of smartphones and connected devices, a more disruptive way of solving the problem would be to design a simple App. With a plethora of Aggregator Apps being launched in the last few years for booking cabs, delivering groceries and other applications, the problem at hand also resembles one that can be addressed with a similar App. The acceptance of such Apps by smartphone users at large, at least in metropolitan cities of India where such aggregators majorly operate, promises success of such an App. 

Phase I

The App would need to have the following features:
  1. It would allow the interested blood donors to create their profile and store their contact information, blood group and last date of donation. Using the analogy of Cab aggregators, the blood donor would function similar to a Cab driver.
  2. The App would also allow requests for specific blood group to be placed by either blood banks or hospitals or individuals, who would need to register their contact information on the App too. Using the analogy of Cab aggregators, the requester would function similar to a passenger. 
  3. A list of all authorized hospitals and blood banks for blood collection in the vicinity along with address would be stored in the App and in case the requester is an individual, he/she would have to choose one amongst them. This would mean that blood collection can happen only at approved and safe collection centers and it would prevent illegal blood business, which thrives in some pockets in India. 
  4. Just like in the case of Cab aggregators, geographic location using Google Map would be used to broadcast the requirement only to active blood donors of the required blood group who are within close proximity of the requester. Donors who have donated within past 90 days would be inactive and would not receive the request, as criteria for donation is at least a gap of 90 days from the date of last donation. 
  5. By default, a notification would pop up even when the App is not running. Based on the number of units requested (buffer can be considered by the requester to be safe), the App would allow those many Blood donors to confirm their acceptance to donate. Once a blood donor accepts the request, the contact information would be exchanged by the App similar to contact information of cab driver provided to the passenger and vice versa by the App. 
  6. Before the prospective donor accepts a request, he/she would be asked to confirm other requirements for a successful donation, e.g. that he/she has not consumed alcohol in the last 24 hours, not suffering from any disease, etc. 
  7. Further a tie-up with cab aggregators could be possible wherein they could act as sponsors and provide a free ride to the hospital to the blood donor. This could act as CSR activity of cab aggregators like Ola thus creating a positive brand image, or it could be funded by the blood unit requester. 
  8. The App could also be used for informing about Blood Donation camps and events in the city. 


Phase II

Such an App could be the initial step towards sourcing blood during an emergency. In Phase II, the functionality of the App could be improved if all the blood banks could share information in real-time with it. In such cases, when the blood of a particular group falls below safety stock level, automatic requests would be sent to the prospective blood donors in the vicinity. Further if Government regulation would allow this information to be shared publicly, regular voluntary blood donors could check the stock of remaining blood units in various blood banks and choose to donate at one that has minimum stock, thus increasing the chances that it would be used for a patient immediately. Other advantages would be possibility to plan better and reduce wastage of blood units.


Phase III

All this could be taken to the next level in years to come with the advent of Internet of Things (IoT). Wearable devices like like fitness trackers, wearable cameras, smart watches, heart rate monitors, and GPS tracking devices are slowly penetrating the market. With a huge boom of such devices expected in future, the App could be triggered by the wearable device and by tracing which hospital the victim is being taken to, it could connect with the blood bank of the hospital and check the possibility of blood shortage. It could even send alerts based on an emergency situation automatically requesting for blood. This could save precious time in emergency situation as the blood donor might reach the hospital much earlier. Until wearable devices gain popularity, a substitute feature in the App could be a one-push emergency button to perform the same function of automatically tracing which hospital the victim is being taken to and further steps explained above.


Countering fake requests

Needless to say, if the App is free to use, it could lead to a lot of fake requests. Cab aggregators avoid this situation by charging a minimal cancellation fee. In the case of the blood donation App, this situation can be countered in the following way:
1) For authorized hospitals and blood banks, which are the more trusted partners, there would be no charges.
2) For individuals placing requests, a nominal fee would be charged, not with the primary intent of revenue generation but for the sake of avoiding fake requests.
3) Just like Cab aggregators allow feedback collection by passengers for cab drivers, blacklisting profiles that were created for fake requests by collecting feedback from blood donors would be another feature that the App can provide in its base version itself.

The success of such an App would require joint efforts from all healthcare players and promotion from the Government as it is most likely to be successful as a non-profit based App. However, in case of private parties interested to work on such an App, large-scale revenue generation can be thought of at a later stage through other means not interfering with the Govt. regulations pertaining to free and voluntary blood donation. This may include nominal and fixed yearly contract fees from registered hospitals or blood banks or even crowd sourcing to raise funds like Wikipedia