Prior to my life at Active Canadian Emergency Training Inc. I knew nothing about automated external defibrillators (AEDs), in fact I didn’t know the difference between a heart attack and a sudden cardiac arrest; aren’t they the same thing? My knowledge about defibrillation was something along these lines, ‘oh those things that they use on Grey’s Anatomy right after they yell ‘clear’, ya I have seen those before.’ Within the last five years I think it is safe to assume that everyone’s awareness about defibrillation has increased beyond television hospital shows as we now see AEDs in airports, schools, sports arenas and workplaces across the country. They have become a standard and something we expect to see when we enter a public facility. Having no medical background myself, it still amazes me that lifesaving technology has been made so simple and accessible, giving availability to bystanders to save a life- that is just plain cool! So with AEDs readily available, I will ask; do you know what an AED is and how it works? Would you feel comfortable using one? Let me share with you what I have learned over the last few years: Kate McGaffin

What is an AED?
An automated external defibrillator (AED) is a portable device that checks the heart rhythm. AEDs are used to treat sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) by sending an electric shock to the heart to try to restore a normal rhythm. Unlike a heart attack, SCA shows no symptoms before the heart unexpectedly stops beating. SCA victims can survive if they receive immediate defibrillation and CPR but treatment must be delivered quickly, ideally within three to five minutes after collapse.

How an AED works?
There are two irregular heart rhythms that can be treated through defibrillation: Ventricular Fibrillation and Ventricular Tachycardia. When the AED electrodes are applied, the AED will determine if the heart is in one of the “shock able” rhythms noted above. If yes, the AED will shock. If no, the AED will advise to continue with chest compressions.

Would you feel comfortable using an AED?
AEDs are designed to be easy to use, so why would anyone hesitate to use one? Imagine the person you are responding to is a child, a pregnant woman, or your co-worker: Can you use an AED on a child? What if the person is laying in water? It is a scary situation with a lot going through your mind and it is understandable that anyone would be nervous about shocking a person. This is why training and awareness about AEDs is so important. In 2010 there were revisions made to the first aid training guidelines to include mandatory modules on defibrillation in every first aid course. This means every person who takes a first aid course will be exposed to a shock able and non-shock able rhythm, as well as get to see an AED and practice scenarios. This is a great place to start to build general awareness and comfort around AEDs to help encourage the public to use them. For workplaces that have an AED, annual training on your specific unit is still recommended by the Heart & Stroke Foundation.

What AED is right for me?
If you are considering purchasing an AED for your home, cottage or business you want to make sure the AED you select is simple to use and maintain. Not unlike shopping for a car, there are features to choose from and every AED is a little different in how they look, sound and most importantly, the energy they deliver. When gathering information and pricing for AEDs here are a few questions you should consider:

Is the AED fully automatic?
Responding to cardiac arrest is traumatic for a lay responder and studies have shown that even with training, people will hesitate to push a button to deliver the shock. Having a fully automatic device removes the decision from the responder and the AED will detect if a shock is required and deliver if necessary. All the responder is required to do with a fully auto AED is turn the device on and apply the electrodes. The AED will deliver a shock if required and tell you to continue CPR until paramedics arrive.

How much energy is the AED capable of delivering?
Over half of all SCA patients require multiple shocks. The FDA received reports of 14 events since 2006 where shocks with less than 200 joules were ineffective, which tells us it’s not just about having an AED, it’s about having the right AED. Some AEDs offer escalating energy, like the LIFEPAK AEDs which deliver up to 360 joules of energy; the highest amount of energy available on the market.

What is the warranty on the AED?
Like all medical equipment there is a suggested replacement time to trade-in your old AED for a new one. The recommendation from the World Health Organization is around the 10 year mark that you need to replace your unit. When I work with clients to help them select an AED I think it is important to choose a device with a warranty that takes you to end-of-life to avoid additional costs.

What is the ongoing cost of ownership?
Before you purchase your AED find out what the replacement cycle and cost is for disposables. The battery and electrodes will need to be replaced as part of the ongoing maintenance of the AED and costs vary from $100 for both, to $350 for the battery alone for some devices. Luckily for us the cost of purchasing AEDs has decreased drastically. When you start to research the purchasing of a device you will find that the majority of AEDs are under $2,000 which gives us lots of options to find the device that suits our needs best without a huge spread in price.

We find that companies who are implementing a comprehensive AED program often have a lot of questions in their search for the right product. Regardless of which product you choose, make sure you tell people that you have it and get training so everyone is confident to respond to a sudden cardiac arrest.

About the Author

Kate McGaffin works with Active Canadian Emergency Training Inc. to support clients across Canada with their first aid and AED programs. More for information on AEDs or training you can contact Kate directly at:

Kate McGaffin, Business Development
Active Canadian Emergency Training Inc.
130 Wilson Street, Hamilton ON
800 205 3278 x1323

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