How to test a defibrillator

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Portable defibrillators or automated external defibrillators (AEDs) are devices used to shock a person's heart back into rhythm if he is in cardiac arrest.

These devices have become increasingly popular over the last several years, so it is common to see them in public places like schools, office buildings and even in some homes, especially where residents have known heart problems. Though the devices are designed for use by people outside of the medical profession and are intended to be foolproof and low-maintenance, practice and knowledge of the product can lead to a greater sense of readiness in times of crisis.

Read instruction booklet or watch the instructional DVD. Most devices, whether prescribed by a doctor or purchased over-the-counter (Philips HeartStart only), come with easy-to-follow instructions. How these instructions are delivered depends on the actual model.

Test the batteries. Models like the Philips HeartStart have constant self-checks for battery readiness and will chirp when the batteries need to be replaced. Some models like the Zoll AED have a manual battery-check button in addition to the built-in self-checks. Both of these models come with battery-ready indicator lights. Be sure that your batteries are always at full working capacity so you are never caught without a functioning AED in a time of crisis.

Practice proper electrode placement. Both HeartStart and Zoll models have training pads available so placement can be practised on a mannequin or, in the case of the HeartStart, on a drawing of an adult torso.

Follow the machine's voice prompts for administering the AED. Once practice pads are placed properly on the test mannequin or drawing, go through the instructions given by the machine so you are aware of its procedures and will be comfortable with its processes. For both the HeartStart and the Zoll AED, that means staying clear of the patient to do a vital scan to determine if a shock is needed, and then either administering CPR or giving a shock first and then moving on to CPR.