Editor’s Note: This article is for informational purposes only and is NOT a substitute for training on AEDs or their use. This is intended strictly as a resource through which you can get a little more familiar with the technology so you can then seek the necessary training.
Cardiovascular disease is the single greatest cause of death in the United States, and every year more than 480,000 adult Americans die of a heart attack or its complication. About half of these deaths (250,000) result from sudden cardiac arrest, a complication of heart attack.
Automatic external defibrillators have become central to many communities' successes in reducing mortality from sudden cardiac arrest. Introduced in the early 1980s, AEDs have been proven a safe, simple, and critically-important life-saving device. It specifically treats two of the major causes of sudden cardiac arrest: ventricular fibrillation and ventricular tachycardia.
While these devices have been common pieces of equipment found on ambulance, fire, or rescue vehicles — the American Heart Association strongly advocates that all ambulances be equipped with an AED or another defibrillation device (semiautomatic or manual defibrillator) — they are increasingly found in the trunks of squad cars. Furthermore, AHA also supports placing AEDs in targeted public areas such as sports arenas, gated communities, office complexes, doctors' offices, and shopping malls.
The fact is that there is a very high likelihood that a police officer will have the need to operate an AED, or at the very least give assistance while one is being used. Having a decent knowledge of the technology is essential. There are variances in the way these devices operate depending on the manufacturer, but the basics are fairly similar. Remember, every device is different, and what follows is just an outline of how the technology typically works — this is NOT a substitute for training!
AEDs accessible to the general public are typically very simple, safe, and easy to use. When you turn on the AED you’ll likely hear a series of audio commands to follow. You’ll need to attach one pad to the victim's upper right chest and one to the lower left side. The pads are typically labeled with an indication as to which position they’re intended to be placed on the victim’s body. Next you’ll need to verify that no one is touching the victim (anyone contacting the victim’s body can prevent the AED from correctly analyzing the need to issue a shock), plug the wires from the pads into the AED (if they’re not already attached), and push the button labeled “analyze.” In some cases there’s no button, the device does the analysis automatically. If the AED determines a shock is required, just push the “shock” button. The AED will do another analysis automatically in most cases.
Some newer models have been FDA-approved for use by the lay public and do not require any authorization or prescription from a physician to buy or use them. Other models may be more appropriate when the intended users have medical direction from a qualified physician or medical director.
Numerous scientific studies conducted during the past three decades have proven that rapid defibrillation is the single most important factor affecting survival from sudden cardiac arrest in adults. OSHA estimates that 15 percent of workplace fatalities — more than 400 per year — are caused by sudden cardiac arrest. Of these victims, it is estimated that 160 could have been saved by defibrillation within five minutes.
Dan White, a regular columnist for our sister-site EMS1.com, contributed to this report. Dan, a certified EMT-P, is the director of Corporate Planning & Product Development for AllMed.