Cardiac arrest is one of the most time critical conditions that can strike anywhere. For the patient, each minute until the ambulance arrives has a huge impact on survival and future medical complications. Ember Medical is solving this by connecting the millions of high-risk patients with CPR-trained medical professionals in the community. Their app alerts nearby first-responders and 911, allowing anyone with cardiac arrest to get stabilized while the ambulance is still on the way.
We chatted with Mohamed (Shadi) Wahba, Co-Founder and CEO of EMBER about the company’s origins and progress so far.
How did you become interested in digital health and emergency medicine?
Shadi: I think it all started because I lost a lot of people in my life. I lost my friend when I was 17 years old to cardiac arrest, and then I lost my mother when I was about 21. At that time I was very interested in technology and finding a way to use it to help people in times of greatest need. This was something I sat with for a long time, and I tried a lot of different projects until I found the right idea and team. That’s how EMBER came to be.
How did the company start and how did you get your team together?
Shadi: It all began on a phone call between myself and my cousin, Mo, who is a cardiologist. He wanted to improve defibrillators, and I had the engineering background to help. We came up with a plan to build a, cheaper, faster, smartphone-enabled defibrillator, but soon realized that a new and improved AED didn’t begin to solve the real problem we were trying to address. The main issue causing survival rates to be very, very low in cardiac arrest, or similar time-sensitive emergencies, is that it takes too long for an ambulance to arrive on the scene.
There are nearly 60 million Americans who are CPR-trained or medical professionals. With those numbers the odds are high one will be near a victim and able to provide life-saving support before an ambulance arrives. We realized the solution to improving survival rates was simply to notify these individuals that their help is needed nearby. After further research, we found that several countries were in the process of adopting a similar idea at a governmental level, and studies have shown that this has increased the survival rate significantly. We had the research and the technology, and we knew that this was a platform that not only had real-world potential but real-world successes.
How does EMBER work if I’m just any person off the street who wants to use your product?
Shadi: Our app is available across all app stores to anyone with a smartphone. If you are walking on the street and you or a loved one has a sudden medical emergency, you can tap the in-app alert button to notify 911 and the nearest medics around you that you need help. Of course, there may be emergencies in which your movement may be limited. Our app allows your loved ones to download the app on their own smartphones—we’ve even enabled voice activation for easier access.
What happens when your app gets notified?
Shadi: Once the alert button is pressed, we simultaneously send your location to 911 and to nearby medics. When the medic is notified, they can choose to respond with a one-tap confirmation. They are then guided through in-app navigation to your location and will provide on-site support in the form of CPR and/or defibrillation until the ambulance arrives.
Our medic network will be responding to cardiac arrest cases in our pilot phase, and will then expand to respond to other time-sensitive emergencies such as opioid overdose, hypoglycemia, and anaphylactic shock. When each minute matters, EMBER ensures that a professional from our network is on their way to help as fast as possible.
What lessons did you learn transitioning from this idea into building a company while at IndieBio?
Shadi: It has absolutely been a transformative experience for me. This all started as an off-hand idea and as what felt like a project with my cousin. It’s totally different from building a company where we now have to think about all the different dynamics involved: who we’re going to hire, how to prioritize, what needs to be built first, where to find funding. It’s a much more complex animal. But the thing I loved about IndieBio is that we always had resources to learn from—whether that was the IndieBio team themselves or our fellow startups with vastly different life experiences. The amount of knowledge that I gained about the startup world and how to manage a company through these last four months is unparalleled. I wouldn’t have accomplished nearly as much without this network. It wasn’t an easy transition, but it was amazingly valuable. I can’t say enough about how much I learned and grew, as both a person and a CEO.
What were some of your greatest successes in the first months of building Ember?
Shadi: In just a few months we’ve formed critical partnerships to build our network of medics, increase awareness, and expand to potential userbases. What started as an idea is now a full-fledged platform backed by partnerships with the American Nursing Association, Sutter Health, and other international organizations. It is very exciting for us to have partnered with the Qatar Foundation where we will be helping to provide emergency support for the World Cup in 2022.
How do you think EMBER’s success can change the emergency medicine landscape?
Shadi: A large part of what we are doing involves integrating with 911. This is a crucial part of improving the Emergency Medical Services (EMS) system as a whole. 911 technology is very much stuck in the 1970’s and 1980’s, which doesn’t make sense when existing technology is capable of so much more. Lives are at stake. Why not use the technology we have to help the most crucial system in our lives? EMBER eliminates the technology gap and brings EMS out of the dark ages. It’s a comprehensive solution, and I do believe it will be the go-to app for medical emergencies.
We can’t afford to waste time in the multistep process of calling 911 and waiting 15 minutes for an ambulance to arrive. EMBER makes it possible to use existing technology to notify and receive help within 5 minutes. Life is our most valuable commodity, we need to make the most out of the technology we have to preserve it.
What milestones is EMBER aiming for in the near future?
Shadi: We have three big milestones that we want to achieve in the near future. The first is to grow our medic network. The more medics we have, the faster response will be and the more lives we can save.
The next will be full integration with 911 dispatch centers. Our goal is to establish a two-way communication to improve their systems for all callers. For our third milestone, we’ll focus on expanding our emergency response efforts to address all time-sensitive medical emergencies, including opioid overdose, hypoglycemia, and anaphylactic shock.
We’re excited to hit these milestones, and many more, to make EMBER the go-to resource for all medical emergency needs in the near future.