Public use of automated external defibrillators

N Engl J Med. 2002 Oct 17;347(16):1242-7. doi: 10.1056/NEJMoa020932.


Background: Automated external defibrillators save lives when they are used by designated personnel in certain public settings. We performed a two-year prospective study at three Chicago airports to assess whether random bystanders witnessing out-of-hospital cardiac arrests would retrieve and successfully use automated external defibrillators.

Methods: Defibrillators were installed a brisk 60-to-90-second walk apart throughout passenger terminals at O'Hare, Midway, and Meigs Field airports, which together serve more than 100 million passengers per year. The use of defibrillators was promoted by public-service videos in waiting areas, pamphlets, and reports in the media. We assessed the time from notification of the dispatchers to defibrillation, survival rate at 72 hours and at one year among persons with cardiac arrest, their neurologic status, and the characteristics of rescuers.

Results: Over a two-year period, 21 persons had nontraumatic cardiac arrest, 18 of whom had ventricular fibrillation. With two exceptions, defibrillator operators were good Samaritans, acting voluntarily. In the case of four patients with ventricular fibrillation, defibrillators were neither nearby nor used within five minutes, and none of these patients survived. Three others remained in fibrillation and eventually died, despite the rapid use of a defibrillator (within five minutes). Eleven patients with ventricular fibrillation were successfully resuscitated, including eight who regained consciousness before hospital admission. No shock was delivered in four cases of suspected cardiac arrest, and the device correctly indicated that the problem was not due to ventricular fibrillation. The rescuers of 6 of the 11 successfully resuscitated patients had no training or experience in the use of automated defibrillators, although 3 had medical degrees. Ten of the 18 patients with ventricular fibrillation were alive and neurologically intact at one year.

Conclusions: Automated external defibrillators deployed in readily accessible, well-marked public areas in Chicago airports were used effectively to assist patients with cardiac arrest. In the cases of survivors, most of the users had no duty to act and no prior training in the use of these devices.

Publication types

  • Evaluation Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aircraft
  • Chicago
  • Electric Countershock / instrumentation
  • Electric Countershock / statistics & numerical data*
  • Emergency Treatment*
  • Female
  • Health Services Accessibility
  • Heart Arrest / therapy*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Volunteers*