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Heart Disease Health Center

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Heart Machine Could Be Coming to a Crowded Area Near You

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Unfortunately, many highly trafficked locations do not maintain the devices, due to a combination of cost and legal concerns.

In a move to help make these defibrillators potentially as common as fire extinguishers, a House subcommittee on Tuesday unanimously approved Stearns legislation, which would require the federal government to establish standards to equip its buildings with the devices.

The bill also would free laypersons, or "Good Samaritans," to operate the devices in emergencies without the fear of a lawsuit. Similar legislation has been introduced in the Senate by Slade Gorton (R, Wash.). "This has the potential to save many lives," said Rep. Fred Upton (R, Mich.).

Legal expert Richard Lazar told the subcommittee that he was unaware of any lawsuits in this country involving improper use of a defibrillator. But Rep. Greg Ganske, MD, (R, Iowa) noted that the public's perception is different.

Rep. Michael Bilirakis (R, Fla.), chairman of the House health and environment subcommittee, tells WebMD that the legislation is likely to face approval by the House Commerce Committee, before the full House can consider the measure later this year.

Bilirakis also acknowledges that money worries remain as an impediment to broad availability for the devices. The defibrillators cost around $3,000 each, and about four hours of training is required to learn their proper use.

Widespread implementation of the devices also has critics. "It's an awful expense for a little benefit," says David Wright, MD, an emergency room physician at Emory University Medical Center in Atlanta. Instead, he suggests using the money for such things as the screening of student athletes. He also notes the defibrillators aren't idiot proof, but instead are only easy when one already knows what to do -- especially in a frantic situation.

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