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Why Many Cardiac Arrest Victims Aren’t Taken to Hospitals

If you or someone you love experiences cardiac arrest, immediate intervention is critical. If the victim isn’t revived on the spot, there’s a chance that they’ll be declared dead at the scene without ever seeing a hospital room. We’re not trying to promote fear but rather to encourage absolute readiness in light of an unfortunate reality: hospitals most often can’t be relied upon for cardiac arrest resuscitation.

Why Hospitals Are Turning Away Cardiac Arrest Sufferers

In recent weeks, the issue of hospital overcrowding has taken center stage. New York City has resorted to setting up field hospitals in Central Park for COVID-19 patients, and medical facilities nationwide are encouraging patients to just stay home unless they have a dire emergency.

The New York City Fire Department has issued an order for EMS teams to declare dead any cardiac arrest patient who can’t be revived at the scene. The orders are legally binding and apply to EMTs, paramedics, and firefighters. The medical facilities are simply too overrun to accommodate cardiac arrest sufferers who likely won’t survive even with additional medical intervention.

To understand the rationale behind this policy, it’s important to recognize how cardiac arrest works. When a person goes into cardiac arrest, their heart stops beating. The heart is no longer able to pump oxygen-rich blood to the brain and other vital organs, and within minutes, the organs shut down. With each minute that passes, the victim’s likelihood of survival decreases by about 10%.

CPR can slow the damage, but only prompt defibrillation can restore the heart rhythm and set the patient on a path for recovery. EMS professionals carry defibrillation equipment and are trained to use it at the scene. If no shockable heart rhythm is found, or if electric shocks are unsuccessful in reviving the patient at the scene, there’s not much more that can be done inside a hospital.

Hospital treatments for cardiac arrest sufferers are usually limited to aftercare. If a patient is revived, a medical team will monitor their condition and take steps to prevent a recurrence, which may include drug treatments (like adrenaline or lidocaine), open-heart surgery, or the implantation of an ICD. In order for any of these steps to be possible, the patient must first be revived.

Why Hospitals Can Actually Be Bad for Cardiac Arrest Sufferers

We’ve established that a hospital environment isn’t necessary for defibrillation. But in some cases, a hospital can actually make things worse. The COVID-19 pandemic is a perfect example. Some data indicates that COVID-19 patients are susceptible to heart damage and cardiac arrest. It doesn’t make sense to expose a heart-compromised patient to a pathogen that can potentially exacerbate their heart problem and create additional health complications.

Of course, we don’t expect this coronavirus pandemic to overrun hospitals forever. But it still serves as a worthy cautionary tale. You can’t just sit back and expect the doctors to take care of everything.

Sometimes, every minute counts.

Sometimes hospitals get overrun.

Sometimes airborne illnesses exacerbate existing heart conditions.

In any event, we all have to be prepared to take some amount of action on our own in the event of an emergency. It could mean the difference between life and death.

How to Prepare for a Cardiac Emergency

When you understand the limitations of hospital intervention and the urgency of the situation, the next fact becomes indispensable:

Cardiac arrest treatment can’t simply be left to the professionals. It has to begin at home. 

If you want to have the best chance of saving a life, don’t wait for the ambulance to arrive. The sooner you act, the better the patient’s chance of survival. By keeping an automated external defibrillator (AED) on standby, you can take action immediately. You may even get the patient’s heart started again.

The good news is that you don’t have to be a trained EMT to use one of these defibrillators. AEDs are equipped with step-by-step voice—and in some cases visual—coaching, so all you need to do is turn on the device and follow along. The device will automatically scan for a shockable heart rhythm and notify you if a shock is required. AEDs are also equipped with CPR coaching, so even if you’re unable to revive the patient, you can still keep them stable until medics arrive with their own defibrillators.

If you have little to no medical training, or if you need to purchase an AED for a facility where untrained people may need to act (such as a school, gym, or hotel), we recommend the following models:

  • Defibtech Lifeline VIEW – The VIEW is the only AED that offers full-color, full-motion video coaching along with step-by-step voice instructions. There simply isn’t a simpler, more user-friendly defibrillator on the market.
  • LIFEPAK CR2 – The streamlined design leaves little room for error, and the built-in metronome and cprINSIGHT allow for simpler, more accurate CPR without unnecessary delays. This one is perfect for schools, as you can instantly adjust the voltage for pediatric patients by pressing the Child Mode button.
  • ZOLL AED Plus – This device comes with a set of CPR-D-padz, the simplest electrode pads for the lay user. Just align the red cross at the center of the chest, and each pad falls precisely into place. This is also the only AED to feature Real CPR Help®. The device automatically lets you know if you’re pushing hard enough when delivering chest compressions.

These AEDs use the same types of ECG analysis and electric shock functions as the high-end defibrillators trusted by EMS professionals. The only difference is that you don’t have to wait for it. If a cardiac emergency occurs in your home or at your facility, you can deliver immediate treatment and give the patient the absolute best odds of survival. And once they’ve been revived, the paramedics can safely transport them to a nearby hospital for monitoring and additional treatment.

An AED just may be one of the best investments you can make for your family, your business, or even yourself.

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