An app-based medical ambulance service , by health tech startup Ural EMS, has reecently launched-making it Bangladesh's first online emergency medical service to call ambulances in close proximity.

Earlier, people had to contact a hospital to call for an ambulance, but with this app, people can significantly reduce the amount of time to call one. The purpose of an ambulance is to get a patient to the hospital, as soon as possible; the introduction of this app can help save lives by providing a much-needed faster service in traffic-congested Dhaka .   

Ural EMS currently provides a standardized ambulance service via their app and call center. The fare for the service is based on the distance traveled and the type of ambulance used. The four types of ambulance available are standard (non-air-conditioned), air-conditioned, intensive care unit (ICU) or cardiac ambulance, and freezer (for transporting the deceased). 

ICU ambulance

The ICU ambulance is the most expensive and has a team consisting of doctors and nurses with a complete ICU setup inside the vehicle. The base fare for an ICU ambulance starts at Tk1000 and minimum fare is Tk3000.

"The base fare must be paid if someone calls for an ambulance and then cancels it upon arrival," said Abu Raihan, digital marketing specialist at Ural EMS. Ural EMS has already started operating in Dhaka. Earlier in July, they signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Olwel BD Ltd. With this integration, an Olwel doctor can refer to patient to the right hospital if needed.

Android devices

In a press release, Shahriar Farid, co-founder, and CEO of Woadec Ltd, the company which developed the app, said: "At present, we are teaming up with government stakeholders, the doctors' community, hospitals, and ambulance owners. " The app is currently available for Android devices on the Google Play Store.

Official counts show that more than three-and-a-half thousand ambulances are operating across the country- of which around only two thousand are properly registered. But the unofficial figure is not less than 10,000, which is far above what the authorities claim. In a 2016 investigation, the Dhaka Tribune found that ambulances were ill-equipped to carry patients.

Equipment in case of emergency

According to healthcare professionals , a standard ambulance should have a bed, an oxygen tank, a stethoscope, a blood pressure measuring machine and a first-aid box equipped with antiseptic medicine, sterile gauze, and saline. There should ideally be a doctor in the ambulance, but if that is not possible then there should be at least one paramedic who can use the equipment in case of emergency.

But in reality, apart from some highly-equipped and expensive ambulances belonging to Dhaka's elite hospitals, most of the available ambulances only have a bed and an oxygen tank. In most cases, patients rely on drivers and their helpers-most of whom have very little or no education. They are only capable of using the oxygen tank .

To obtain a privately-owned, non-AC, ambulance – within the limits of Dhaka city – one has to pay between Tk700 and Tk2,000, on average. The price depends on the distance, time of day, and the condition of the vehicle.

The average cost of a private air-conditioned ambulance is approximately double that of a non-AC ambulance-from Tk1,500 to Tk3,000. Elite hospitals, that have modern ambulances. The cost of the ambulance is included in the overall bill for treatment.

Often regular private ambulances carry patients from the capital to other districts. That costs around Tk8,000 to Tk10,000 per trip. It is estimated that there are about 10,000 ambulances in Bangladesh, and 5,460 of them are registered.