Getting at the Heart of AEDs

Nov. 2, 2005
They can be life-savers

Sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) - when an individual’s heart goes into an abrupt, uncoordinated rhythm called ventricular fibrillation - is a leading cause of death in the United States, according to the American Heart Association. Unfortunately, many victims of SCA have no previously reported history of heart disease; or, if heart disease is present, it has not functionally impaired them.

The challenge, then, is to give these victims a chance at resuscitation - within 3 to 4 minutes of SCA onset. That small window of opportunity comes in the form of an electrical shock from a defibrillator. Over the past decade, a small group of manufacturers have created an easy-to-use, reliable device - an automated external defibrillator (AED) - that literally guides a layperson through the process. Early defibrillation programs have already been successful in saving lives.

Jamie Froman, director of marketing, commercial AEDs, cardiac resuscitation unit, Philips, answers a few basic questions about AEDs:

Q: What is an AED?

A: A defibrillator is a device that delivers electrical current to the heart to treat sudden cardiac arrest. Automated external defibrillators are portable devices that monitor and analyze cardiac rhythm. An AED will only permit the user to deliver the shock if the device advises that a shock is needed.

Q: For commercial settings, is there a recommended number or installation process for AEDs?

A: We recommend that the first step for a building owner or manager is to lay out early a defibrillation program to determine how many devices to place and the best locations for them. Perhaps it’s a staged program, starting small with a plan to add on later. It does depend on the specific facility. At Chicago O’Hare airport, for example, a defibrillator is located so that it can be retrieved and brought to a victim’s side in about 2 minutes. Some owners might say, “I want to support this notion of early defibrillation and I think it’s important,” but the goals for that building and operation might be for a device every 3 to 4 minutes apart.

One important criterion for selection: Since AEDs are infrequently used devices, a building professional doesn’t want a device that requires a lot of maintenance. Units are available that conduct self-tests on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis. If one of these self-checks determines that the AED needs attention, the device will chirp and a visual indicator will blink.

Q: How can I best inform and train building tenants/employees on AED use?

A: Most building occupants will notice the new device and signage on the wall, but some facilities professionals are informing their tenants/employees and/or staff through written communication, i.e. a poster or brochure that identifies the devices and answers basic questions. Key to the communication is to focus on two areas: how the device is easy to use for “lay responders” (people who don’t have formal medical training) and its reliability. Training is also important, even though the devices are extraordinarily easy to use. If there’s a designated group of responders in a building, training will help them become more familiar and comfortable with the devices so that when an emergency does occur, they can react calmly and quickly.

Linda K. Monroe ([email protected]) is editorial director at Buildings magazine.

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