Be Still My Not-Beating Heart

You would think that having automated defibrillators everywhere would really help save lives, but the latest research seems to indicate this is not the case, at least in hospitals. Yes, that’s right–the old-school, low-tech defibrillators seem to have saved more lives than the fancy, supposedly easy-to-use, automated external defibrillators (AEDs).

In 2000 a committee with the American Heart Association made a blanket recommendation that hospitals should equip themselves with AEDs. It turns out this wasn’t really based on any actual evidence or research but just a general belief that, well, OF COURSE lives will be saved if new defibrillators that more people can operate are on hand. one estimate suggests, though, that nearly a thousand patients die each year because of the equipment.

Back in the day, when hospitals had the traditional defibrillators, only a small percentage of hospital staff, namely doctors and critical care nurses, could run the equipment. Many hospital nurses did not have the knowledge to use the defibrillators. The new defibrillators, on the other hand, actually provided verbal instructions. Also, AEDs had proven useful in other environments, such as airports.

Among the problems with the AEDs in hospitals are equipment failure (many of the AEDs have been recalled by manufacturers) and inappropriate use. Hospital patients who go into cardiac arrest tend to be in poor health to begin with and may have cardiac arrests that are non-shockable; in other words, the electrical shock from a defibrillator doesn’t help. Another issue is that though the AEDs are more user friendly, many of the potential users shy away from them, so response is still impeded.