Increasing Awareness About AEDs: The Penn Defibrillator Design Challenge

Interview by Jodie Elrod
Interview by Jodie Elrod

The Defibrillator Design Challenge is a contest to create eye-catching designs around automated external defibrillators (AEDs) in public locations in the Philadelphia area, in order to increase awareness and educate the public about the importance and use of AEDs. In this feature interview we speak with Raina Merchant, MD, MSHP, Assistant Professor of Emergency Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, Director of the inaugural University of Pennsylvania Social Media and Health Innovation Lab, and Director of the Defibrillator Design Challenge.

Tell us about how the Penn Defibrillator Design Challenge was created.

About a year and a half ago, we launched the MyHeartMap Challenge project, and the goal there was to try and locate all of the AEDs throughout the city of Philadelphia. We were really struck by how these lifesaving devices were located in public locations around the world, yet no one knew exactly where each was located. So we decided to ask the public to help us try to find these devices using a crowdsourcing approach. We created a mobile app, a contest, and a crowdsourcing infrastructure, and were able to find 1500 AEDs throughout Philadelphia through the help of everyday citizens, some of which were cardiac arrest survivors. We were really interested in the findings in that project, but were also taken by the fact that even though we had free information that was now in a mobile app, it still didn’t make people more knowledgeable about these devices when they saw them in everyday life. So we thought, how can we make these devices more noticeable so that when you walk by them, you’re more likely to see them? I met with an innovative city council woman who suggested, why not dress them up? Therefore, we created the Defibrillator Design Challenge to ask the public to help us once more make the devices more memorable and noticeable.  

Describe the role of the Penn Social Media and Health Innovation Lab at the Penn Medicine Center for Health Care Innovation. Why was it important for the lab to take part in increasing awareness and educating the public about AEDs?

The Social Media Lab was started this past July, and I am the inaugural director of the lab. Our goal is pretty simple: we want to improve health and healthcare for individuals and the population. We’re really interested in this problem, which seems addressable: there is great research to show that AEDs can be used by the public, we know they are available in multiple locations, and we know that they can save lives (from less than 2% to a greater than 50% chance of survival when a defibrillator is used in conjunction with CPR). This is an incredibly important public health challenge that we thought needed some innovation to think about ways to save lives. This fit really nicely in our mission of the Social Media Lab in that we recognized the power of people’s connectedness and the ubiquity of social media, and we wanted to find a way to capitalize on both by engaging people online in a place where they interact and connect to think about public health. 

Who is participating in this contest? Have the design submissions been submitted locally or from across the U.S.? 

We have people submitting designs from primarily all over the U.S., as well as a few international submissions. Going into this contest, we didn’t know who would participate; we really were trying to harness the design community to take on this public health challenge. What we found was that a lot of the people who were participating and submitting designs were survivors or people who have been impacted by heart disease, and that has been really interesting. The contest lasts until April 6th, so our demographics may change, but right now we’ve had a lot of interest as well from EMS providers, physicians, patients, family members affected by heart disease, and also some students who have been excited about thinking of new ways to make these devices more noticeable along college campuses. 

Tell us about some of the winning images so far and how they were chosen. What have been some of the most popular designs? 

There has really been a range of designs submitted — some of the designs use different colors, some of them use messages to draw people’s attention, some use popular culture images and designs that may be more eye catching. In one of the designs, the artist created a red tape that reads “AED” that goes along the floor; that way you notice it from the moment you walk into the building and can follow it to where one will be located. Some designs use different plays on words, some use a map showing where the device is, others have used big and bold arrows pointing in the direction of the AED, and some are a little more playful, including flowers and different characters with images on them. There is really quite a range, and more so than what we would have come up with if we just had gone to a design firm.

How are winning designs selected? What prizes are awarded?

There are two processes. One is by a popular vote, which is for the design that receives the most votes and points from Facebook and Twitter. We also have an expert panel, which is a group of designers, physicians, and other people from business and healthcare leadership who are looking at the designs. We give $100 expert panel prizes all throughout the contest. The ultimate winner will receive $1000, and we have gold, silver, and bronze prizes for $500, $300, and $200. 

When the contest ends, how soon do you expect the winning AED designs to be permanently installed? Have the public spaces in Philadelphia where the winning AED art designs will be featured already been chosen? 

The locations are still very preliminary at this point, so we’re mainly focused on what the designs will look like first, and that will help with the process of where they might go. This process may take a few months to a year. We want to be very deliberate and thoughtful about it and feature designs that will be site specific; for example, some designs might work better in a restaurant or in a bank. We want to see what the designs will look like and then decide.  

As with the MyHeartMap Challenge and this year’s Defibrillator Design Challenge, do you expect that a new challenge will be created next year? 

Our lab is committed to doing different projects at the intersection of public health and social media, and every year or two we want to take on something big and bold that will help push primarily heart health and heart health awareness. We haven’t yet decided what that next project will be. We would love suggestions. 

Tell us about other ongoing projects taking place with the Penn Social Media and Health Innovation Lab. 

Our work is in three areas. We do research at the intersection of public health and social media, and so we’re using Twitter to understand more about heart health as well as using Facebook to understand mental health in the things that people post. Secondly, we’re helping with the development of mobile apps and websites; right now we’re looking at evaluating existing wearable devices and mobile devices, and how those can be used to monitor health. Finally, we’re focused on enabling a culture of social media innovation. In that regard, we try to lower the barrier entry for others to participate, and so we’re developing workshops and toolkits that others can use to understand how to study and analyze these tools for research and public health.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Our lab is always very interested in social media ideas that people have. We encourage people to reach out to us and let us know about projects that they’re working on or if there are things we can help with. We really want to create a culture of social media innovation, and we look to the public to help us do that.

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