Predictive Dispatch of Volunteer First Responders: Algorithm Development and Validation

Michael Khalemsky, Anna Khalemsky, Stephen Lankenau, Janna Ataiants, Alexis Roth, Gabriela Marcu, David G. Schwartz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Smartphone-based emergency response apps are increasingly being used to identify and dispatch volunteer first responders (VFRs) to medical emergencies to provide faster first aid, which is associated with better prognoses. Volunteers’ availability and willingness to respond are uncertain, leading in recent studies to response rates of 17% to 47%. Dispatch algorithms that select volunteers based on their estimated time of arrival (ETA) without considering the likelihood of response may be suboptimal due to a large percentage of alerts wasted on VFRs with shorter ETA but a low likelihood of response, resulting in delays until a volunteer who will actually respond can be dispatched. Objective: This study aims to improve the decision-making process of human emergency medical services dispatchers and autonomous dispatch algorithms by presenting a novel approach for predicting whether a VFR will respond to or ignore a given alert. Methods: We developed and compared 4 analytical models to predict VFRs’ response behaviors based on emergency event characteristics, volunteers’ demographic data and previous experience, and condition-specific parameters. We tested these 4 models using 4 different algorithms applied on actual demographic and response data from a 12-month study of 112 VFRs who received 993 alerts to respond to 188 opioid overdose emergencies. Model 4 used an additional dynamically updated synthetic dichotomous variable, frequent responder, which reflects the responder’s previous behavior. Results: The highest accuracy (260/329, 79.1%) of prediction that a VFR will ignore an alert was achieved by 2 models that used events data, VFRs’ demographic data, and their previous response experience, with slightly better overall accuracy (248/329, 75.4%) for model 4, which used the frequent responder indicator. Another model that used events data and VFRs’ previous experience but did not use demographic data provided a high-accuracy prediction (277/329, 84.2%) of ignored alerts but a low-accuracy prediction (153/329, 46.5%) of responded alerts. The accuracy of the model that used events data only was unacceptably low. The J48 decision tree algorithm provided the best accuracy. Conclusions: VFR dispatch has evolved in the last decades, thanks to technological advances and a better understanding of VFR management. The dispatch of substitute responders is a common approach in VFR systems. Predicting the response behavior of candidate responders in advance of dispatch can allow any VFR system to choose the best possible response candidates based not only on ETA but also on the probability of actual response. The integration of the probability to respond into the dispatch algorithm constitutes a new generation of individual dispatch, making this one of the first studies to harness the power of predictive analytics for VFR dispatch. Our findings can help VFR network administrators in their continual efforts to improve the response times of their networks and to save lives.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere41551
JournalJMIR mHealth and uHealth
Issue number1
StatePublished - 28 Nov 2023

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