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Defibrillators: Should You Invest in One?

by Jary D. Winstead

It wasn’t long ago that defibrillators were found only in ambulances or hospitals, but times have changed. Now, buying an automated external defibrillator (AED) for your office is a smart and worthwhile investment.

Increasing Survival Rates

In order for a victim of cardiac arrest to survive an out-of-hospital cardiac arrest, four interdependent actions need to take place, known as the Cardiac Chain of Survival:

  • Early access and activation of emergency medical services (EMS)
  • Early cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR)
  • Early defibrillation
  • Early advanced care

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), EMS personnel respond to approximately 300,000 out-of-hospital cardiac arrests annually. Yet, on average, less than 8 percent of people who experience an out-of-hospital cardiac arrest survive to hospital discharge. Someone experiencing cardiac arrest is 2 to 3 times more likely to survive if a bystander applies an AED before EMS arrival. At the onset of a cardiac arrest, the survival rate decreases by 10 percent for each minute that CPR and the use of an AED are delayed.

Many states have enacted laws requiring AEDs to be made available in places like federal buildings, schools, businesses, medical offices, dental offices and other public gathering areas. Since each state has different requirements, you should contact your state’s regulatory authority for information about whether you’re required to make one available at your particular location or business.

The Cardiac Arrest Survival Act of 2000 required the establishment of federal guidelines for AED placement in federal facilities and provides immunity from civil suits to anyone who uses an AED in an emergency. Many states have what is known as the Good Samaritan Act, which protects people from civil suits if they provide first aid treatment, as long as they provide care within their scope of training.

How Easy Is It to Operate an AED?

Current AED devices have built-in computer chips to analyze the patient’s heartbeat instantly and accurately, making it possible for nonprofessionals to administer an appropriate shock to the patient without risk of overdoing it. The shock level is automated and not user-selectable, so the user cannot override a “no shock” when advised by the unit.

An AED provides the operator with step-by-step direction throughout the process. Once the unit is turned on, it provides voice commands on what to do. Many units are even equipped with drawings illustrating the locations to apply the monitoring pads.

The AED is built with operator and patient safety in mind. Units are designed so they will not charge for a shock — and won’t provide an electrical shock — unless the AED determines through monitoring the patient’s heart rhythm that a shock is warranted. Safety measures assure that the AED unit will not provide a shock unless the operator of the AED depresses the shock button, and then only after the unit has instructed to do so.

What Should You Consider When Thinking of Purchasing an AED?

While there are numerous AED units on the market today, there aren’t a lot of operational differences from one to the next. A person or company that is interested in purchasing an AED should become familiar with the different models and manufacturers. AED units may have different illustration designs, shapes and colors.

If you need to purchase more than one unit, it may be a good idea to purchase identical models. This assures employees are familiar with the AED, no matter which specific unit they may use. Here are some additional considerations:

Cost AED units generally cost between $1,200 and $3,000, depending on the manufacturer.

Prescription for AED AEDs are currently categorized as Medical Equipment and may require a physician’s prescription.

AED Program Many states require you to have a written AED program detailing information such as prescription information, medical direction, location, training, documentation, regulations, maintenance schedule and use of the AED.

Training People who will be using the AED must be trained by an authorized instructor through the American Red Cross, Medic First Aid, American Heart Association or another authorized instructor. Training must be provided when the unit is placed into service and provided for all employees who will be using the unit. In addition, refresher courses must be provided according to the training certification’s intervals. Adult AED units are not designed for training purposes, and a special “training” unit must be used during operator training. Using a regular AED for training could result in serious injuries or even death.

Maintenance AED units must be strictly cared for and maintained per the manufacturers’ recommended maintenance program.

Pediatric Use AEDs were originally designed for adults, although some manufacturers now offer pediatric pads and will reduce the adult level shock to a level more suitable to children 1 to 8 years of age.

Jary D. Winstead is an occupational safety consultant and the owner of Work Safety Services, LLC.

This article provides general information, and is not intended to provide personalized legal or medical advice; please consult with your own advisor and review local/state/federal regulatory guidelines and requirements if you have any questions.

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