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How a simple piece of tech saves lives with no formal training

16th February 2020 Print

Utter the word 'technology' in a crowded room and you will quickly hear discussions of smartphones and artificial intelligence ensuing. Technology is a big part of modern-day life. What so many do not realise is that technology does not have to be complicated to be effective. In fact, there is a rather simple piece of technology that actually saves lives every single day – with absolutely no formal training required.

How can that be? Technology usually comes with a steep learning curve and very few instructions. In the case of the previously mentioned life-saving technology, anyone who can read and follow instructions can use it. This amazing piece of technology is known as the automated external defibrillator (AED).

Defibrillators Are Old Technology

Defibrillators themselves are fairly old technology. Indeed, deploying defibrillators in the UK has been pretty standard for decades. Defibrillators are machines that deliver controlled electrical shocks to a patient suffering cardiac arrest. Over the years, many stopped hearts have been restarted by way of targeted electrical shocks administered by trained professionals.

"But wait," you say, "I thought the AED doesn't require professional training."

You are absolutely correct. That is the difference between older defibrillator technology and its newer counterpart. Where older defibrillators have been around for decades, the AED is a relatively new invention that only began showing up in the UK a few years ago. It can be deployed by anyone.

The AED is designed to do the exact same thing as its older counterpart. However, the AED's significant difference is found in the word 'automated'. Automation technology now makes it possible for anyone to use an AED without any formal training. The machine does almost all of the work by itself.

Small but Powerful Package

A typical AED is a pretty small machine that packs a powerful punch. Unlike older machines that were large and unwieldy, a modern AED is no bigger than a small kitchen countertop appliance. Yet it is capable of starting a stopped heart with controlled electrical impulses. How does it work? The process is quite basic.

Someone observing a patient in cardiac arrest would open the AED case and immediately begin reading instructions printed on it. The person would attach multiple electrodes protruding from the machine to key locations on the patient's chest. Those locations are outlined in the instructions and illustrations.

Electrodes are attached simply by peeling away a protective strip and placing the adhesive-carrying electrode in the right location. This can all be done in a matter of seconds. Finally, the person switches the machine on. The machine does everything else.

An AED is capable of monitoring the patient's heartbeat. If none is detected, the machine delivers electrical shock before monitoring again. This process continues until the machine detects a heartbeat. Once the heart starts again, the machine continues to monitor until professional help arrives. Should the heart stop again, the machine will resume delivering electrical shocks as needed.

Defibrillators Save Lives

Defibrillators represent the difference between life and death in many cardiac arrest situations. Still, you might not take the time to consider how simple AED technology is until you actually need it. Suffice to say that anyone of us would become a big supporter of placing the devices in public spaces following a cardiac arrest emergency in which an AED saved us.

Save lives they do. According to the Arrhythmia Alliance, 50% of cardiac arrest patients receiving a combination of CPR and defibrillator shocks within the first few minutes survive. Without CPR and defibrillation, only 9% of cardiac arrest patients make it. The numbers speak for themselves.

The Arrhythmia Alliance also makes it clear that defibrillation is the only way to get a stopped heart started again. CPR can manually force a heart to continue pumping blood temporarily, but a stopped heart requires an electrical shock to get started again. Defibrillation provides that shock.

AEDs in Public Places

Knowing what we know about cardiac arrest and defibrillation, it would make sense to place defibrillators in as many public places as possible. You could have made the case 10 years ago that public defibrillators were impractical and potentially unsafe. Remember that those older devices were not automatic devices. That made them dangerous in the hands of untrained users.

Today, AED technology makes new defibrillators safe for anyone to use. We no longer have a situation in which defibrillators pose a danger to the public. As such, there really are no more excuses for not having AEDs in public places. The proverbial icing on the cake is the fact that AEDs are very affordable these days.

The AED is a simple piece of technology compared to sophisticated computers with built-in artificial intelligence. And yet, the devices are lifesavers. They can automatically monitor a cardiac arrest victim's heart rate and deliver an electrical shock as needed. Best of all, an AED can be successfully deployed without any formal training. You cannot say that about many other modern technologies.