Equipping Yourself to Save Lives

automated external defibrillators

Perhaps no medical innovation of the last 20 years stands to save more lives than the increasing presence of automated external defibrillators, or AEDs.

Perhaps no medical innovation of the last 20 years stands to save more lives than the increasing presence of automated external defibrillators, or AEDs.

These devices are appearing in churches, shopping centers, schools, and sports facilities as a way to rapidly correct certain lethal heart rhythms.  Instances when their absence has cost lives are well-documented.

The scenario is simple.  A person–maybe a young person, with an undiagnosed heart condition–collapses without warning. 

No pulse is found.  The defibrillator is deployed by a trained civilian, who places two adhesive patches on the patient’s chest. 

The device assesses the patient’s heart rhythm and uses recorded voice prompts to instruct its operator.  If the rhythm is one that the machine can correct, it advises the operator to move spectators away, and then orders the user to press a button to administer a shock. 

The machine then analyzes the rhythm again and, if needed, the cycle repeats.  Paramedics have already been notified by this point and will take over care upon arrival.

Why  not just wait on the paramedics?  They’re the professionals, right?  Unfortunately, even the fastest ambulance crew is likely to be too late to prevent brain damage from a cardiac arrest event. 

Research shows that irreversible damage is done to a patient’s brain in as little as three minutes after the heart stops.  Bystander CPR with an electrical shock is the most reliable strategy to save a patient’s life.

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The rousing success at saving lives with AEDs, and declining prices, has spurred their placement in locations previously thought not worthwhile.  Facilities where occupants are likely to exert themselves are good candidates for defibrillator placement.  Certainly any location where people are exercising is a good choice for this equipment. 

If you’re in a position to be involved in purchasing decisions for this equipment, there are some important considerations to make. 

First, think about buying refurbished units, but only when that restoration work is done by the manufacturer.  They do work as well as new ones, but the technology is advancing rapidly, so many EMS providers and other frequent users upgrade to the latest and greatest on a regular basis. 

That means lightly used and thoroughly reworked used units are on the market, and they can fit the bill quite nicely.  The catch:  Batteries, replacement pads (needed after each use), and other parts can quickly disappear from the market as models become obsolete, so address this issue with your vendor before making a purchase.

Second, if buying more than one unit, aim for consistency.  There are subtle differences in the voice commands and operation of different units, so comparing the functionality of different AED brands is advised.  Remember that the potential users are likely to be first-time users. 

The operation of the unit should mimic those used in their training to the greatest extent possible.  Trainer devices are available that behave exactly like the real thing.  Consider this investment as well.  And spring for the storage cabinet as well, for the protection and visibility of the unit.

AEDs save lives, plain and simple.  Today’s gym or place of assembly shouldn’t neglect the opportunity to prepare to reverse a potentially deadly cardiac emergency.  As with any product, good research and a good supplier can make all the difference.

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