The defibrillator is an important medical tool, delivering a jolt of electricity to the heart of a victim of cardiac arrest. In many cases, the defibrillator can restart the victim's heart, preventing long-term damage or death that might otherwise occur. However, the defibrillator also has some drawbacks.
One of the primary advantages of a defibrillator is ease of access. While the professional models installed in hospitals must be operated by a trained doctor, nurse or technician, automatic external defibrillators (AEDs) can be placed in the home or public places, putting their life-saving power in the hands of teachers and family members.
Defibrillators are expensive machines, with even the most modestly-priced home models exceeding the £650 mark. In addition, most health insurance will not pay for a home AED, putting the entire burden of the cost on the individual. Defibrillators in hospitals are even more expensive but get more frequent use, negating some of the initial investment by preventing the need for other, more complicated methods of resuscitation.
Even AEDs require training to use properly. The owners manual that comes with an AED only covers the basics, so anyone who may need to use an AED should attend a training seminar. For hospital employees, defibrillator training takes time away from other areas of learning. Improper use of a defibrillator can lead to serious injury to the victim or onlookers in the immediate area.
While most defibrillators are very effective, the advantage of an AED over CPR is a subject of debate within the medical community. According to the Mayo Clinic, traditional CPR may be as effective as an AED at restarting the heart in certain situations. In other cases, CPR is effective first aid to keep blood pumping through the body until trained medical technicians can respond and use a professional defibrillator.
The widespread use of home and public defibrillators raises legal issues as well. For example, first aid responders who use an AED on a person who does not wish to be resuscitated may face a lawsuit from the victim. Improper use of a defibrillator can also be cause for a malpractice suit against a doctor or a personal liability suit against a private individual who misused an AED and caused an injury, such as a shock or burn, to an onlooker.