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Heart Failure Health Center

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Defibrillators May Become as Common to Public Places as Fire Extinguishers

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WebMD Health News

Oct. 13, 1999 (New York) -- Patients who collapse suddenly and go into cardiac arrest are benefiting from semiautomatic defibrillators. The defibrillators, which are increasingly being put in public places, have the capacity to detect abnormal heart rhythms and shock the heart back into action, according to Boston University researchers. Emergency medicine experts tell WebMD that these defibrillators are saving lives as they are more and more frequently being placed on walls in public places.

Researchers presented safety and efficacy data on the use of the defibrillators in Boston at the American College of Emergency Physicians annual meeting. According to Lawrence Mottley, MD, co-author of the study, the defibrillators are highly accurate -- rarely misinterpreting a life-threatening abnormal heart rhythm. The defibrillators had 99.6% accuracy in picking up ventricular fibrillation, an unstable heart rhythm that can spiral into a life-threatening crisis. Their excellent track record means that the heart only gets shocked when it really needs it. Mottley is an emergency medicine physician and an associate clinical professor of emergency medicine at the Boston University School of Medicine.

Mottley played a key role in training rescue units at Boston's Logan International Airport in how to use the semiautomatic defibrillators. Before they were available, "the airport had 13 cardiac arrests each year and no survivors," he says, but now the survival rate has risen up to 35-40%. Training personnel at airports is critically important, according to Mottley, because airports typically have numerous barriers that slow down access of safety equipment and rescue teams. "It is very hard to get out to the tarmac and gates because there is so much security," he says.

In Boston, the semiautomatic defibrillators are becoming more widely used. Mottley says that some of the larger office buildings, including the John Hancock Center, Prudential, and Fidelity office buildings, as well as on Boston's Capitol Hill, have been outfitted with the devices.

Right now, the Food and Drug Administration recognizes these defibrillators as controlled devices. In other words, only trained staff can use them. But emergency medicine experts are spearheading training efforts and pushing to have them put up just like a fire extinguisher at public places, such as sports stadiums and transit facilities.

Mickey Eisenberg, MD, who heads the emergency department at the University of Washington in Seattle, says they too have been deployed in public places in the Seattle area. He says that this new study offers additional "reassurance" of the safety and efficacy of these devices. Eisenberg predicts these devices will be used even more widely in the near future. Besides putting them in public places, he sees the families of patients at high risk for sudden cardiac death being outfitted with them.

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