With 2 million units sold, there’s no denying that the Philips HeartStart line of defibrillators is popular. But you may not realize just how revolutionary these devices are. They didn’t just make bystander defibrillation more accessible; they made it possible. This groundbreaking series of automated external defibrillators has come a long way, and it continues to raise the bar for lifesaving technologies.
How Philips HeartStart AEDs Fulfilled a Critical Need
Before the first automated external defibrillator (AED) became available, people had to rely on emergency medical services to treat cardiac arrest. This was a serious problem because the average response time for emergency services is between eight and 14 minutes.
About 350,000 Americans experience out-of-hospital cardiac arrest each year. The most effective way to treat them is with immediate defibrillation and CPR. Without rapid treatment, most of these sufferers die within minutes—there’s no oxygen-rich blood being transferred from the heart to other vital organs.
With each minute that passes, a patient’s prognosis declines by about 10%. The patient doesn’t need help when the ambulance arrives—they need help now. That’s the purpose of the AED. With a portable defibrillator, a bystander can immediately take action and potentially save the patient’s life before it’s too late. Then emergency services can take over when they arrive.
But AEDs are a fairly new innovation. They’ve only been around for about 25 years. And it was Philips that made them possible.
The Philips HeartStart ForeRunner — The First AED for the Lay User
The first Philips HeartStart AED, the ForeRunner, was unveiled in 1996. And it changed everything. It was the first AED designed specifically for the lay user and also the first designed for pediatric use.
The ForeRunner was a decade in the making. Its developers set out to create a portable AED that could be called upon at a moment’s notice. It would need to be small enough to hang on a wall and simple enough for a bystander to use in an emergency. At the time, medical-grade defibrillators were all massive machines that delivered up to 350 Joules of electricity to shock patients. In order for a consumer-grade defibrillator to be viable, it would need to deliver less electricity and present no major risks to the user or patient.
Such a notion was unheard of at the time, but the developers pulled it off. The ForeRunner was designed to deliver just 150 Joules to adult patients and 50 Joules to pediatric patients. The device was automated, meaning that it relied on internal algorithms to detect a shockable heart rhythm and optimize treatment accordingly.
Taking their cue from ICD technologies, the engineers experimented with biphasic waveforms to help ensure the best survival outcomes. This groundbreaking AED was a smashing success, and SMART biphasic technology remains a patented Philips innovation used in every HeartStart AED. In 1998, the FDA even put its stamp of approval on this state-of-the-art waveform technology, and later studies would go on to prove that this lower-energy approach to defibrillation has superior first-shock success with less risk.
The ForeRunner was so innovative that it immediately caught the attention of the American Heart Association. The AHA conducted an exhaustive review to study the device’s effectiveness, its safety, and its wide-reaching implications for cardiac arrest sufferers. And so the AED revolution began.
The Evolution of Philips HeartStart AEDs
With the success of the ForeRunner, Philips immediately got to work on newer, more sophisticated AEDs with more streamlined functions and advanced features. The HeartStart FR2 hit the market in 1999, followed closely by the FR2+. These AEDs were lighter and easier to use, with faster response times and an enhanced feature set. Even more advanced HeartStart AEDs followed.
In November of 2002, the FDA officially granted approval to the Philips HeartStart series of AEDs. At the time, every AED required a prescription, but that changed in 2004 when Philips achieved yet another milestone.
On September 16, 2004, the Philips HeartStart OnSite AED became the first portable defibrillator to receive FDA approval without a prescription. These devices could now be sold over the counter for uses in homes, schools, churches, hotels, and wherever portable defibrillators are needed. The move was publicly endorsed by the American Heart Association.
The OnSite was deemed especially safe for public use on account of its state-of-the-art features. It was equipped with improved features like pre-connected pads, Life Guidance voice coaching and CPR assistance, and EMS readiness. It was also one of the first AEDs to use Philips’ signature SMART Pads cartridge, which sends enhanced heart rhythm analysis data to the defibrillator.
The Future of Philips HeartStart AEDs
Today, Philips continues its commitment to innovation with the user-friendly HeartStart HS1, the rugged HeartStart FRx, and the advanced HeartStart FR3. HeartStart AEDs remain the most purchased, the most used, and the most reliable external defibrillators on the market. The newer models are lighter (as light as 3.3 pounds), more rugged (boasting IP55 certification against dust and water), and more sophisticated.
This may be why Philips HeartStart AEDs are used by 80% of major U.S. airlines and a growing number of international carriers. They’re used by 43 professional sports teams and a staggering 85% of Fortune 500 companies. Today you can find them in international airports, major hotels, shopping malls, and public squares.
Wherever the future of AEDs takes us, it’s a safe bet that Philips will continue to lead the way.