For Jason Friesen and his company Trek Medics—a nonprofit that develops pre-hospital and emergency care systems in low- and middle-income regions—dropped calls, long wait times, messy call routing and other common issues plaguing communications today aren’t just a matter of lost revenue or disgruntled customers.
They’re literally a matter of life and death.
To accomplish their mission of reducing preventable death and disability by improving access to emergency care for at-risk and vulnerable populations through mobile phone technologies, Friesen and his team turned to Twilio first, and now employ a host of Twilio products to give their customers better, faster access to critical, life-saving care.
Traditional vendors, especially those in the west, rely on existing infrastructure to manage messages and calls for emergency personnel. That didn’t work for the areas Friesen and his organization serve because they’d have to build that infrastructure from scratch: a cost-prohibitive and fundamentally impossible undertaking, given the realities facing Trek Medics’ service locations.
Friesen and his team started with Twilio because it allowed them to build out the infrastructure they needed in a way that fit with the limited conditions they found themselves in.
“One of the things that we keep hearing from people is they’re so excited that our service works, or that our software works, through SMS. [In the west] it’s just taken for granted that everybody’s got a smartphone with internet connectivity,” he explained. “Fortunately, we’ve got [programmable messaging], because in a lot of the countries we serve, they just don’t have smartphone penetration. And if they do, they don’t have credits on their phone for the internet. So something like SMS is very simple, but that’s what we need. It solves our problems.”
Trek Medics started with Twilio and has not had to go elsewhere, save for a handful of localized instances, Friesen explained. They began using Twilio’s Programmable Messaging service to create BEACON, a text-message-based emergency medical dispatching platform developed specifically for communities where consistent ambulance response is not available.
Later, as they explored other areas where Trek Medics could help, they realized there were other opportunities for serving underserved communities, ones that required a slightly more complex solution. Twilio Flex, with its customizable and programmable contact center functionality, turned out to be another perfect fit, Friesen said.
“Flex was as close to a turnkey solution for call-intake as I’ve ever seen for what we’re trying to do,” he said. “It couldn’t have been more perfect of a solution because the original plan of pulling all the telecoms together and coming up with a custom solution certainly could have happened, but it would have taken a lot of time and effort, coordinating that across multiple carriers and all the other complications. Flex just couldn’t have come at a better time and has just been such a huge benefit to us.”
Before utilizing Flex, managing call intake wasn’t something the company could do, Friesen said. But now, with Flex up and running in Malawi and Haiti, the organization has created a one-stop-shop for emergency communications in underserved areas. The company is already seeing instances of lifesaving communication happening right in front of their eyes.
“In Puerto Rico, someone overdosed on opioids and a call went to 911, but the ambulance was a ways away,” he said. “Some other emergency responders heard the call over the radio and dispatched local volunteers through Beacon. They got there in minutes, administered Narcan, and saved the guy’s life.”
Flex also brings an inherent scalability that has been huge for Trek Medics and its ability to serve more communities, Friesen said.
“With Flex, changing the workflow is really accessible to non-engineers,” he said. “That’s great because you have a limited number of engineers and you want them working on the most pressing, complicated stuff, and setting up a new phone number, for example, should be pretty easy—and with Twilio, it is.”
The best part? Setting Flex up took the company just two full working days from start to finish, Friesen said. When you’re in the business of saving lives, that sort of timeframe makes a massive difference.
With Flex, changing the workflow is really accessible to non-engineers. That’s great because you have a limited number of engineers and you want them working on the most pressing, complicated stuff, and setting up a new phone number, for example, should be pretty easy—and with Twilio, it is.
Since implementing their Twilio-powered solution, Trek Medics has expanded to 14 countries and has plans to expand to five more this year, and to explore implementing voice-related services as well.
In their experience, Flex has allowed the organization to shrink the most important metric on the call dispatch side of things: response and arrival times, or the interval between when a responder receives an alert and when they are at a patient’s side. The industry standard for urban areas is sub-10 minutes, and sub-30 minutes for more suburban and rural communities.
For Trek Medics, many of their programs report response times in urban areas of six to seven minutes, far below the industry standard, Friesen said.
“Our whole approach is to get away from the mentality that only ambulances are acceptable emergency response vehicles, because in most of these countries they just don’t have enough ambulances, and if they do, they don’t have very good roads,” he explained. “So, for example, in Tanzania they’re on motorcycles, and so our approach is to say the more responders the better. Just by having more responders, you’re going to reduce your response times, and that’s totally possible because of mobile phones, SMS, and push notifications.”
“Twilio is definitely a one stop shop,” he added. “In countries where Twilio has the numbers we need, we don’t have to talk to anybody else. We can do everything we need right through the Twilio console. It’s really quite amazing.”
Read more about the business lessons Friesen has learned through running Trek Medics on the Twilio Hub.