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15 minutes training enough to save lives with an automated external defibrillator


Just fifteen minutes of training could make it possible for anyone to use a defibrillator to stop sudden cardiac arrest. A study published today in the journal Critical Care shows that a brief training session is all that is needed for safe and efficient use of an automated external defibrillator.

Sudden cardiac deaths affect nearly 400,000 people per year in Europe, and every day in the U.S. more than 1,200 people die from cardiac arrest before they reach hospital. In most cases, sudden cardiac arrest is due to ventricular fibrillation, a rapid, irregular twitching of the ventricles of the heart, which can be stopped by applying a defibrillator and delivering an electric shock within 1 minute of its onset. Automated external defibrillators are becoming increasingly common in airplanes, airports, companies, schools and other public places.

Stefan Beckers and colleagues from the University Hospital in Aachen, Germany, asked over two hundred first year medical students with no prior experience to use a defibrillator on a mannequin on two occasions, with a one-week interval between the sessions. Before the second session, the students attended a 15-minute talk on the purpose of the defibrillator, why it has to be used within the first minute of the arrest, and the importance of correct electrode pad positioning. Their response times were monitored during both sessions.

The study shows that 85.6% of the students could position the electrode pads correctly the first time that they tried. During the second session, the proportion increased to 92.8%. The time taken to apply the shock was 85 seconds during the first session, and decreased dramatically to around 59 seconds during the second.

The authors conclude that untrained laypersons are able to use automated external defibrillators quickly and safely. Their performance significantly improves after basic theoretical explanation of the device.

The reaction of untrained individuals to real emergency situations requiring the use of a defibrillator is likely to be different from their performance in simulated situations.

But the authors believe that their results are significant and should encourage basic training to prevent unnecessary sudden cardiac deaths. They add, "enhancing […] public information, for example via television campaigns or other extensive publicly available media, is of great importance."

This article is accompanied by a commentary.

This press release is based on the following article:

Minimal instructions improve performance of laypersons in semiautomatic and automatic external defibrillators

Stefan Beckers, Michael Fries, Johannes Bickenbach,
Matthias Derwall, Ralf Kuhlen, Rolf Rossaint
Critical Care 2005, 9:R110-R116

Juliette Savin | EurekAlert!
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