Increased Public Access To Defibrillation Could Prove Potentially Cost-Effective And Life-Saving

DALLAS, April 7 -- When the heart stops, help is needed immediately. But in many states, legislative barriers that restrict the use of medical devices to re-start the heart may inadvertently lead to thousands of deaths each year, according to a "special report" in today's Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association.

The report's authors say that greater availability of public access defibrillation (PAD) -- which refers to a treatment for out-of-hospital sudden heart stoppages through use of automatic external defibrillators (AEDs) by the public or by other nonmedical personnel -- may be economically attractive and save as many as 24,000 lives each year.

Defibrillation uses electric "shocks" to re-start the heart. AEDs have paddles that are pressed against the chest to deliver the shocks that revive the heart. For each minute that passes after cardiac arrest, there is a 10 percent reduction in the chance of survival.

Even with this information, the questions surrounding PAD are significant. Who should use AEDs? If an average person without medical training uses an AED to revive someone and fails, is he or she liable for the death? Is a person trained to use an AED fails to do so is he or she liable for negligence? Where should AEDs be placed? How much does it cost?

In a 1996 poll of state emergency medical system (EMS) directors, only 27 states permitted non-emergency first responders to use AEDs. Only six states -- California, Florida, Maine, Maryland, North Dakota and Texas -- allowed the lay public to use AEDs.

"The common sense is still ahead of the science," says Joseph P. Ornato, M.D., a member of the American Heart Association's emergency cardiac care committee and a co-author of the report. "The more we show that this is not such a scary concept, the harder it's going to be for naysayers to argue. Common sense may carry the d

Contact: Brian Henry
American Heart Association

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