Should You Buy an At-Home Defibrillator?

Nash explained that fatalities from sudden cardiac arrest are common, but the risk to any previously healthy individual is low. Heart disease is nearly always found in victims of sudden cardiac arrest. Those at risk for sudden cardiac arrest are frequently smokers or individuals with high blood pressure. Those so predisposed may not want to wander too far from the closest defibrillator.

The American Heart Association estimates that 40,000 more lives could be saved annually in the United States alone if automated external defibrillators, or AEDs, were more widely available and could reach victims more quickly.

Francesca Infantine, a Phillips marketing executive, said that home defibrillators are a good idea because they help overcome one of the biggest barriers to treating cardiac arrest -- time.

"With sudden arrest, [with] each passing minute, the chances of survival fall at a rate of 10 percent. The average response time for emergency personnel in a typical community is nine minutes, so time can run out quickly," she said, adding that many people experience cardiac arrest at home, with someone nearby who could potentially offer help.

To keep it as simple as possible, the HeartStart home defibrillator was designed specifically for the home user who will not have time to call technical support for help in working a complicated machine while a loved one goes into arrest.

I tried a demonstration of the device, and found it simple to use: Six instructional steps were delivered in a clear calming voice (the audio is integrated into the device), which coached me to proceed at my own pace, to alert 911, remove the patient's shirt, peel open the two adhesive pads, and place the pads on the victim (guided by a clear infographic). If necessary, I would have been instructed to press the orange button to deliver the shock of 150 joules of energy, and ideally shock the heart back into proper action. Additionally, the rescuer is coached through very important CPR procedures while awaiting professional help.

Of special concern to the Federal Drug Administration was the product's safety, since the product is being sold as an over-the-counter device. So, once applied to the body, the pads begin to measure the pulse and will only administer a shock if necessary, ruling out the chance for misuse or accidents.

Defibrillators are getting easier to find in many public venues. For example, Phillips' medical unit already has a robust defibrillator business, selling more than 300,000 industrial versions a year to places like sporting arenas, athletic clubs, airports, offices and school districts.

Every public school in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago is required by law to have a defibrillator on-site, and the individual administering the treatment is shielded from liability by "good Samaritan" laws.

Is it time for every household to purchase one? Dr. Nash leaves it up to each individual.

"Personally, I am not in the market for a home defibrillator, but if there is someone in the household at risk, or money is not an object, there is very little reason not to get one."

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