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Wilderness medicine app fills a needed niche

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In 2021, Kaen (“Call me ‘kl.’”) Lapides faced a crossroads in her life. The longtime Breckenridge-based ski patroller, emergency medical technician (EMT), backcountry ski and hiking guide and wilderness medicine educator was unable to do any of her usual activities. She was laid up from a back injury, and the COVID pandemic, then at its height, had pretty much shut down most everything anyway.

Casting about for something to do to fill her time, Lapides thought about an in-house medical app she had created for her fellow Breckenridge ski patrollers in 2017. But, as she told The Sopris Sun recently, the app was “too wordy,” which limited its usefulness. She mentioned that a medical app was available for physicians, but “it was not useful for Wilderness First Responders [WFR] or Wilderness First Aid [WFA] … there wasn’t an app out there [for those people].”

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Lapides decided to rectify that void by creating an app that could be downloaded to one’s mobile device and thus not be dependent on cell or satellite connectivity. Thus was born Wilderness Medicine Etrier and its first app, Wilderness Medicine Reference (WMR), released in 2021 after several months of development.

As the WMR website describes, the app “is designed mostly for those with a WFA up to WEMT [the next level above WFR] training, but even those with higher level training who do not routinely practice medicine outside will find information of merit inside this app.” But it noted also that those with no wilderness medical training can still benefit from the “Patient Assessment Quick Reference” section.

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The app is divided into nine sections, most of which are focused on medical issues. In addition to patient assessment, these include trauma, medical illness, environmental illness, cardiac arrest, medication and first aid kits. However, Lapides pointed out that the WMR app is much more than a reference for wilderness medical situations.

From years of dealing with injuries and other mishaps as a patroller and guide, she wanted to include extensive discussions “on the actual causes of most accidents,” what she explained often result from “subjective decision-making errors.” This section includes information and suggestions on decision-making processes before embarking on an activity that could put adventurers in a dangerous situation, as well as on mistakes that might be made by people faced with responding to wilderness medical emergencies (especially if they are inexperienced).

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Another significant component of the app is a section called “Critical Checklists.” Inspired by the book “The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right,” by renowned surgeon Atul Gawande, Lapides created a series of 10 checklists on a wide range of topics, such as avalanche resuscitation, pre-trip planning and helicopter flights. The checklists are designed to avoid a situation where indecision could lead to making the wrong choice on a course of action — harking back to subjective decision-making errors. “If they at least have it in their hand, it can help,” she said, noting that it might empower a “lesser member of a group” to speak up against an ill-advised course of action.

Lapides emphasized that the app “is a public service right now.” The download costs only $1.99. She observed that it has been “hard getting [the app] out there,” since it’s not like a physical item you might buy in a store. But she did note that while the conversion rate from view to download for apps averages 2%, for WMR it is “never below 5%” and can be an impressive 10-15%.

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Lapides relocated to Redstone last year, calling it “my second home” from years of involvement with Outward Bound. She has continued as an EMT in Eagle County and as a wilderness medicine educator and recently became the volunteer EMT at the Redstone firehouse. Although she has had to give up her first love of trail running, she has embraced mountain biking with open arms. She competed in both the 2022 Snowmass Audi 50 (Power of Four) and Grand Traverse bike races and intends to do more cycling events this year.

For more information on the WMR app, or to download it, visit

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Tags: #EMT #health #Kaen Lapides #Outward Bound #preparedness #safety #wilderness first aid #Will Sardinsky
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