ORIE’s Henderson awarded NSF grant to study emergency medical services

By: Pat Gillespie

Shane Henderson, the Charles W. Lake, Jr. Professor in Productivity in the School of Operations Research and Information Engineering at Cornell, is using stochastic modeling and optimization to study new directions in emergency medical services, thanks to a grant from the National Science Foundation.

The nearly $380,000 award will contribute to national and international health by developing new mathematical and computational tools to inform the design of so-called volunteer schemes for out-of-hospital cardiac arrest.

“Cardiac arrest arises when a patient’s heart enters an atypical rhythm,” said Henderson. “Death follows rapidly unless the patient receives medical attention. Lives can be saved if the patient receives cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) quickly.”

Recently, volunteer schemes have arisen whereby volunteers install an app on their smartphone that tracks their location. Volunteers near a cardiac arrest are notified by the app and can choose to respond, thereby shaving valuable minutes from the response time, i.e., the time until quality CPR is initiated.

“Such schemes are emerging worldwide, but key questions relating to their design remain unanswered,” Henderson said. “For example, how many volunteers are needed to ensure impact on survival rates, and when one can potentially recruit volunteers of multiple types, which should be prioritized?”

The proposed research develops methods to answer these questions and others related to the design of such schemes, with the potential to help usher in a new approach to emergency medical services, where ambulances for transport are paired with volunteers for rapid response, leading to improved medical outcomes at lower cost. Related research questions relate to the potential impact of broadband connections that enable a remote paramedic or doctor to advise on-scene treatment by a paramedic or ambulance officer, and how to make dispatch decisions in periods when emergency services are severely loaded.

Henderson and Ph.D. student Maggie Li are actively working on these questions with collaborators in the Netherlands and New Zealand.

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