If you have recently been to a mall, airport, or other large public facility, there is a good chance you have seen an automated external defibrillator (AED). They are becoming more commonplace and are even required by law in some instances. There are over 326.000 cases of out-of-hospital sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) in the United States each year with 90% of these patients dying. AEDs are a valuable tool in increasing an SCA victim’s chances of survival; however, you may have wondered if these machines can be safely operated by someone with little or no medical training. The answer is yes.

AEDs are designed to be intuitive. Once the machine is turned on, either by opening a case or pressing a button, it will guide the user through the proper steps. The AED will check for a specific type of heart rhythm which is frequently the cause of SCA. If that rhythm is detected, the AED will direct the user to administer a shock. The AED will not deliver a shock if one is not needed, making it impossible to accidently deliver a shock.

A survey of nearly 1600 businesses showed that 13% had responded with an AED to a suspected SCA. In four of those cases, the AED was operated solely by a layperson. All four of those SCA victims survived to be admitted to the hospital. In each case, the layperson was able to operate the AED without harming the SCA victim, themselves, or bystanders.

AEDs are most effective when used immediately after the SCA and in conjunction with CPR. A CPR class is an excellent way to learn more about AEDs. By learning effective CPR and how to use an AED, you can be prepared to save the life of someone experiencing SCA.