Communication Tools for Home Emergency Service

Challenge Accepted: Improve the Home Emergency Service of the German Red Cross

The Digital Product School is a three-month training program by UnternehmerTUM, the start-up and innovation center of the Technical University of Munich. In partnership with AWS, our challenge was to improve the home emergency call service (Hausnotruf) of the German Red Cross (Deutsches Rotes Kreuz). Our international, cross-functional team consisted of a product manager, three software engineers, and myself as the interaction designer.

Elderly lady reading a book near a Hausnotruf device

Approximately 5 million people in Germany require care, with many living at home. Home care services (Pflegedienste) face a severe shortage of professionals, and family caregivers are often overwhelmed. In this situation, a Hausnotruf offers relief. It enables the elderly to live at home and get help when needed – whether it’s a quick phone call or an ambulance.

The Ups and Downs of an Innovation Project

When we started working, we only had a vague idea of how the Hausnotruf works, who the stakeholders are, and what problems we might solve. To overcome this uncertainty, we used the design thinking process as a guide and interviewed the elderly, family caregivers, and staff from the DRK. Creating a Bull’s Eye graphic and filling in other canvases from DPS helped us structure our learnings.

Examples of methods and canvases from Digital Product School

We found that the care sector in Germany suffers from numerous systemic challenges that we could not solve in three months. We also learned about several issues in the communication between patients, dispatchers, and caregivers – something we believed we could improve!

However, it wasn’t a straight path to success. We quickly failed with some of our inital ideas. First, we wanted to enhance the audio quality of calls by filtering out background noise and isolating speech. Unfortunately, our first tests revealed that this wasn’t technically possible with reasonable effort. Next, we tried a translation and transcription service that enables dispatchers to better communicate with foreign-language callers. The early AI-powered prototype worked surprisingly well but when we showed it to the DRK, we learned that this situation is rare and workarounds already exist.

Team CAIREMAKER at Digital Product School

Finally, we turned to the communication between the dispatcher and the family caregiver, which suffers from the fact that it only takes place via phone. In an emergency, this synchronous communication is quick and effective, but in uncritical situations, it can consume the participants’ time and nerves. If the dispatcher cannot reach a family member by phone, they must repeatedly attempt to do so. Conversely, a missed call often leads to anxiety and panic for family members because they don’t know what has happened. A further problem is that emergency responders need up-to-date and complete information on a patient’s medical condition and medication. In practice, however, it’s too time-consuming for the DRK to maintain this information, and relatives often forget to inform them about changes.

Improved Communication Through Innovative Tools

Our final solution after three month of intense work consists of two parts: a web app for dispatchers and a smarthone app for caregivers. Both aim to save time and effort by making communicatoin easier but most importantly provide peace of mind for stressed caregivers!

COMMUNICAITOR Web App for Dispatchers (MVP)

The “COMMUNICAITOR” web app allows dispatchers to send text messages to one or more recipients, so they don’t have to chase the caregivers by phone. With the help of templates and AI-powered text enhancement, this is possible with just a few clicks.

In only 6 weeks, we built a functional product based on a modern tech stack consisting of AWS cloud services, React, ClickSend, and the IBM Carbon Design System. Starting with a simple click dummy, we regularly received feedback from the DPS coaches and the DRK dispatchers. We iteratively worked our way towards an MVP, which we could deploy to the Hausnotruf call center in Munich and test for one week under real-world conditions. The dispatchers used the tool without any problems and sent several messages. Especially at night, the tool made it easier for them to inform relatives and close the alarms in their system more quickly.

“The COMMUNICAITOR tool can help us a lot. It was amazing to see what a young and motivated team can achieve in such a short time.”

M. Keller, Head of BRK Hausnotruf Munich

Companion App for Caregivers (Concept)

The Hausnotruf Companion App complements the COMMUNICAITOR. The smartphone app shows the current situation at one glance and makes it easy to manage important information about the elderly, such as medication and health conditions. Users can easily update their contact details, availability, and more. This makes it more straightforward for the dispatchers to contact the caregivers, and access the relevant information in emergencies. Caregivers on the other hand can be sure to stay informed about all events, better contribute to the optimal care of their loved ones, and overall have more peace of mind. During our time at DPS, we were only able to develop the companion app as a rough concept. However, our project partners viewed it with great interest and found it very promising.

“The Companion App is a great idea and something like that has to happen sooner or later!”

N. Muskulus, Consultant for Hausnotruf at DRK Federal Association

Personal Learnings

There are a lot of things that I learned (again) during this project at the Digital Product School. For example, talking to users is the only reasonable way to develop a successful product. Or that making stuff is much more effective than just talking about it.

One thing struck me in particular: how teamwork influences the result. In this regard, DPS was very challenging, because as a motley crew with diverse backgrounds, we had to accomplish a lot in a short time. I learned not to quickly judge other ways of working as wrong, to communicate my view very clearly, and not to stick to my opinion too much. In the end, we managed to find each other as a team, create a common product vision, and make the first building blocks of it a reality. Thank you team CAIREMAKER!

Photo credits: DRK Bundesverband, DRK Kreisverband Rhein-Neckar/Heidelberg, Digital Product School

Project Basics

  • Type of WorkTraining
  • ClientDeutsches Rotes Kreuz
  • PartnersDigital Product School & Amazon Web Services
  • Year2023
  • Timeframe3 Months
  • My ResponsibilitesProduct Management Support · User Research · UX Concept · UI Design · Prototyping · Usability Testing · Development Support
  • TeamDanial Bahrambeygi · Aleksandr Sharikov · Lucas de Oliveira · Mark Orester
  • ToolsFigma · Miro · Notion · GitHub