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We often seek out Colorado’s outdoor spaces to get away from it all. Remoteness is arguably the backcountry’s greatest attribute; it’s also what makes being in the wilderness more dangerous, than, say, walking down Tennyson Street. “Being away from human construction has a way of helping us breathe and see a little bit more clearly,” says Dr. Grant Lipman, former director of Stanford Emergency Medicine’s Wilderness Medicine fellowship. “But implicit in leaving the pavement is that there is a little bit of challenge out there.”
This past June, he and health tech pioneer Camilo Barcenas, along with medical science up-and-comer Adam Roeske, launched an app that shares Lipman’s emergency medical expertise with others. The Global Outdoor Emergency Support Health app, or GOES Health for short, offers offline tools that can help outdoor adventurers of all ability levels better prepare for trips, make informed decisions when something goes wrong, and access wilderness medicine-trained emergency physicians if they have cellular or satellite service.
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The need for reception is a significant caveat, says Dr. Jay Lemery, a professor of emergency medicine at the University of Colorado School of Medicine and chief of the Section of Wilderness and Environmental Medicine. Lemery isn’t affiliated with GOES Health, though he knows (and specifies that he respects) many of the individuals involved. “The 24/7 medical service necessitates that the subscriber secure their own remote communication service, which is no small feat in the Rocky Mountains,” Lemery says. “This, in and of itself, is a considerable drawback to the applicability of this wilderness medicine consultation service, but those willing to pay for both [the app and a means of communication] will find experienced and knowledgeable care providers trained in wilderness medicine on the other end.”
Still, Lemery believes the app can be a valuable part of someone’s preparation to set off into the wilderness. “In Colorado, we have a lot of remote and challenging terrain—steep trails, high altitude, dry climate, swift water—that can challenge even the most fit adventurers,” he says. “For those with some backcountry experience and decent situational awareness, this app should be viewed as another tool to assist medical decision-making in places where there are no easy care options.”
GOES Health’s library covers more than 50 potential dangers, many of which are particularly applicable to those who live in and visit Colorado, including high-altitude illness, bears, wound care, and snakebites. Although this information is accessible off-grid after you’ve downloaded the app, the user would ideally review dangers they might encounter before heading into the backcountry. “It all starts with preparation,” Lipman says. “That’s a huge first step. People spend all this money on gear and dialing in their right shoes and what kind of Gore-Tex they should be wearing, but reviewing this little bit of information won’t just keep them safer, it can actually make them enjoy their trip that much more.”
Lipman should know. For nearly 20 years, he’s been involved in treating altitude sickness in the Himalayas and supporting ultramarathoners as they crossed South America’s Atacama Desert. Along the way, he’s co-authored more than 100 journal articles and publications on acute mountain sickness, kidney injuries in ultrarunners, hypothermia, blisters, and more. After working with a rattlesnake-bite victim, who’d tracked down Lipman via Google, he thought, “There has to be a way to put this information in peoples’ hands so they’re not trolling the internet in distress looking for options.”
Since there wasn’t yet an app for that, Lipman and Barcenas created it. “We came together to say, ‘How can I grab the knowledge out of your head and make it accessible to everyone in the world through technology?’” Barcenas says. The goal, he adds, was to replicate “having a wilderness medicine doctor on your shoulder.”
That’s what GOES Health aims to be. For $5.99/month ($45.99/year), subscribers get access to the current temperature, wind, and elevation conditions wherever they are. That basic information is then followed by location-specific risk factors and the opportunity to learn more about those concerns, along with medically validated tips for prevention, symptom detection, and care.
GOES+ subscribers, who pay a $19.99/month or $99.99/year subscription fee, gain access to the app’s support team of wilderness medicine doctors via chat or call anytime—as long as they have cell or satellite phone reception.
Lemery, the CU professor, says situational awareness about the conditions, difficulties, and dangers one might encounter on a specific trail is essential. GOES Health can augment that knowledge, but it shouldn’t replace traditional beta collection methods, such as researching the terrain and talking with someone experienced and/or familiar with a planned trail.
Anyone going into the wilderness should also have the basic skills and equipment necessary to stay safe. And those who spend significant amounts of time in Colorado’s backcountry areas should consider taking a wilderness first aid course themselves, Lemery says. (One option, through the National Outdoor Leadership School, costs around $350.)
But if you’re more comfortable with an app, GOES Health’s “assess” function is designed to help in case you do find yourself in a wilderness emergency. Even without cell service, the user can evaluate environment-specific injuries, specify what body part is affected, determine symptoms, and decide on the best course of action through wilderness medicine protocols and how-to guides. “The future of healthcare,” Barcenas says, “is when people take care of themselves.”