In the new study, the defibrillator was used by health care workers in 32 percent of cases, by police in 26 percent of cases and by civilian volunteers in 35 percent of cases.
Extrapolating the results of the study, which included a population of 21 million, to the 330 million people in the United States produced the estimate of 474 lives saved a year--"a person and a half a day," Weisfeldt said.
The study did not look at the cost of having automatic external defibrillators in public places across both countries, he said, but it is possible to estimate the financial feasibility of such a program.
"Roughly 200,000 of these are being sold every year, at an average cost of $2,500," Weisfeldt said. Maintenance is not expensive, he said -- "they self-check" -- and training is not essential.
"The cost of defibrillators is relatively modest when you look at other safety costs," Weisfeldt added. "Seat belts and air bags cost about $1,000 per car, and nobody says that is wasted money. The cost of defibrillators would be in the same order of magnitude."
An external defibrillator is not difficult to use, even for an untrained person, added Dr. Jeffrey Goldberger, medical director of the Center for Atrial Fibrillation at the Bluhm Cardiovascular Institute of Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago. "All they require is someone to turn it on," he said. "The device tells you what to do."
When defibrillator leads are placed on the chest, the device can determine whether the heart has stopped beating. "Then it tells you what you should do," Goldberger said.
If cardiac arrest has occurred, cardiopulmonary resuscitation should also be attempted, he said. "The defibrillator is not meant to replace CPR," he said. It is an adjunct to it."
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