Left: The "Emergency" function of WPAHS’s iPhone app gives you a list of different types of emergencies. When you click on one, it tells you which WPAHS hospital is best suited to treat that particular emergency. (Screen shot courtesy WPAHS)

In the past, you probably couldn’t have cared less what kind of phone your emergency medical services professionals used.

Now, you’re going to hope they have an iPhone.

The West Penn Allegheny Health System, of which Allegheny General Hospital is a part of, released in late February an iPhone application specifically designed to help EMS professionals respond to medical emergencies faster and more efficiently.

The app, called the EMS Field Partner, is available for free in the online Apple Store.

In addition to containing reference materials on state procedures and standard medication dosages, the app will tell EMS professionals which WPAHS hospital can best treat the patient based on symptoms and allows them to more quickly summon a LifeFlight helicopter.

Integration with Google Maps gives ambulances turn-by-turn directions to the appropriate hospital and also communicates with helicopter dispatch to give pilots the patient’s exact GPS location.

EMTs or paramedics will still have to call 911 to launch the helicopter, but using the app allows the flight team to prepare and should save between three and five minutes, which could be crucial in a time-sensitive emergency.

WPAHS Outreach Development Coordinator Eric Schmidt, who helped conceptualize and develop the app’s functions, said the idea for the app was to give EMS professionals everything they needed to respond quickly to emergencies in one place.

Anyone can download the app, but in order to access some of the functions like the ability to call a helicopter, users must register and provide their credentials. Schmidt personally reviews each registrant to make sure they are EMS professionals.

In the app’s first week of availability, Schmidt said it had about 700 downloads and 100 approved EMS users.

At the end of February no one had used the more advanced features like calling a helicopter, but paramedic Craig Pearson of Penn Hills and Shaler EMS said he was looking forward to the chance to use the app on the job.

After playing with the app, Pearson thinks the ability to select from a list of symptoms and have the app tell you which hospital is most appropriate will be one of the most useful features.

Because of the many hospitals in the region, WPAHS and otherwise, he said it can be hard to know whether or not a specific hospital will be able to provide the best care in specialized cases.

“Somebody who has a significant injury, you press the button and AGH shows up,” he said.

The reference material, too, will be useful. Although Pearson thinks he’ll still carry his hardcopy reference material for awhile, eventually he thinks he will transition to only using the in-app material.

Butler-based EMS professional Nico Soler agreed with Pearson’s evaluation of the app.

“There’s so much on our heads, it’s nice to be able to grab our phone and have some reference,” he said.

Soler believes the GPS function will help the LifeFlight helicopters find them more quickly, and will also help the helicopters find closer places to land, which will cut down on travel time, he said.

“It’s definitely a very valuable tool for EMS providers.”

In the future, Schmidt said they may release the app for other mobile phone platforms like Android and BlackBerry, but they want to make sure they “have it right” on the iPhone first.

Schmidt worked with about half a dozen EMS professionals to conceptualize the app, which was coded by German-based Ritter Technologies.

“We think that every function is useful at one time or another,” Schmidt said.

Of course, Schmidt also hopes that more people will choose to come to WPAHS systems because of the app. Although patients often can choose which hospital to go to, EMS professionals do sometimes have a say depending on the patient’s condition.

Its features help attract more patients, he said, “by improving simplicity of access so that’s where people want to go.”