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A Lifesaving Machine Over the Counter?

FDA Panel OKs No-Prescription Sales of Home Defibrillator

Cost Is an Issue

Kellerman argues that the price of the machines ($1,995 according to a toll-free number listed on the HeartStart web site) is better spent elsewhere.

"The odds you will ever need it is remote. Buying a home defibrillator is like buying a very expensive lottery ticket," Kellerman says. "It is a huge family expense with a very low likelihood of a patient ever seeing a benefit."

But what if a patient told him he really wanted a home defibrillator?

"If a patient said, 'I want to improve my chances of surviving a heart attack,' I'd say, 'Your best chance is not to have a heart attack in the first place," Kellerman says. "If you have $2,000 burning a hole in your pocket, join a health club; get help stopping smoking; get help lowering your cholesterol. Sure, AEDs have saved hundreds of lives. But we have saved hundreds of thousands of lives with primary prevention of heart disease. And we don't know whether having an AED in the home will make a family less interested in prevention."

Becker notes that many people simply don't do what their doctor says they should.

"I really think I'm like most people: I am a complete denier that anything might be wrong with my heart," he says. "Even though I'm a doctor, I haven't seen my own doctor in the 25 years since I was supposed to. But I am thinking of putting an AED in my home because the majority of people who drop dead from heart attacks do so before they have any symptoms of heart disease."

The FDA usually, but not always, follows its advisory panels' recommendations.

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