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AEDS: A Lifesaver, Not a Liability

To celebrate February as American Heart Month, the News Blog is highlighting some of the latest heart-centric news and stories from all parts of Penn Medicine.

MHMC_pressrelease flow imageIt’s Day 10 of Penn Medicine’s MyHeartMap Challenge, and more than 200 teams have signed on for the hunt, submitting more and more AEDs each day. From the farthest reaches of the city – all the way up in Northeast Philly’s Pennypack Park area to the Philadelphia International Airport in Southwest Philly – and throughout Center City, participants are snapping pictures and sending them to our team.

They’re providing us with lots of other helpful intell along the way, too. We’re already hearing about companies that are beefing up the number of AEDs they have on hand because they’ve heard about the contest and want to make their facilities more heart-safe. But MyHeartMap Challengers are also letting us know that the scavenger hunt isn’t always easy: Our team has received reports of contest participants being blocked from taking photos of devices in certain buildings, particularly when the AED is in a place that isn’t readily accessible near the entrance. Or, as MyHeartMap Challenge Director Raina Merchant’s own team learned when they previously tried to catalog AED locations themselves, some businesses balk at telling contestants if there’s an AED there at all. And when asked, some employees simply have no idea whether their building has an AED – even in some of the places where the Penn research team already knows there’s an AED.

Dr. Merchant’s message to help combat these barriers is simple: AEDs are a lifesaver, not a liability. And the devices can’t save lives if they aren’t there, or are stashed away in a closet or a drawer where no one knows about them. “We understand that businesses may fear that they’ll be held liable if their device doesn’t work, but think of the reverse: What if they don’t have one and someone needs it, or if they have one but no one knows?” says Merchant, an emergency physician. “By keeping the information guarded, no one will even think to reach for it – possibly cheating someone out of a chance to live.”

We applaud every Philadelphia employer, from the smallest businesses to the largest corporate and government offices, that has AEDs in their facilities – it’s an essential step in saving the lives of the more than 300,000 people who suffer cardiac arrests outside hospitals each year. But there are a few more steps to maximizing the effectiveness of the devices. Training employees and giving them information about where they can find the AEDs in the building – and empowering them to jump in and act if they witness a cardiac arrest in the building or nearby – comes next.

Employers shouldn’t fear that user error could impede the safety or effectiveness of the devices during an emergency, either. Even without formal training, anyone can use an AED. In just the past few years, the technology has made huge leaps, with today’s devices providing audio instructions for how to apply pads to the patient’s chest and deliver the shock. And they also talk users through the steps of CPR – a key component that provides support for bystanders who are nervous that doing CPR the “wrong” way could do more harm than good. A recent Penn study showed that even people who have received CPR training report that they don’t feel confident in their ability to perform the lifesaving maneuver, so new AED bells and whistles like a metronome help users keep proper pacing for chest compressions. (One hundred compressions per minute is the goal -- the same beat as the BeeGees hit “Stayin’ Alive.”)

Businesses who opt to buy AEDs should also know that even device maintenance and upkeep is easy. Typically, replacing the batteries every five years or so is all that’s required to keep them in working order. Merchant suggests integrating regular AED inspection into ordinary activities in a workplace -- the same way that a fire extinguisher is checked periodically -- or using a maintenance card like those used for restroom inspections in restaurants and stores.

Clearly marking AED locations is important, too, for members of the public passing through or near buildings. Most AED manufacturers offer special stickers or signs to go along with their devices so they’re easy to spot in an emergency. As Perelman School of Medicine student Mike Hogalin, who resuscitated a man who had a cardiac arrest on a Center City Street last year can attest, being able to head straight to a building that had an AED sticker in its front windows or doors would have taken precious minutes off the time it took to locate a device to restart the man’s heart.

Dr. Merchant notes that the AED locator map and app that will result from the MyHeartMap Challenge can be customized to address safety or security concerns that a private or government office may have about publicizing that they have an AED. If the device is kept behind locked doors or in a part of the building that can’t be accessed by members of the public, for instance, the map could note that an AED is present at the location, but that bystanders must check with a security officer at the front desk in order to obtain it, or ask for help from a trained employee.

Are you participating in the MyHeartMap Challenge? Have MyHeartMap Challenge contestants visited your business? Tell us about your most unexpected AED find so far, about any troubles you’ve had locating or submitting them, or challenges in your workplace. There’s still time to join the contest and win $10,000!

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Views expressed are those of the author or other attributed individual and do not necessarily represent the official opinion of the related Department(s), University of Pennsylvania Health System (Penn Medicine), or the University of Pennsylvania, unless explicitly stated with the authority to do so.

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