Life-saving devices to be installed in medical school buildings

Automatic external defibrillators (AEDs) are being installed in School of Medicine buildings to improve a person’s chances of survival after sudden cardiac arrest.

In the first phase of the program, about 140 public-access defibrillators will be installed in 34 School of Medicine-owned buildings beginning in May. In addition, four AEDs will be provided to the Protective Services Department, which already has three devices in its vehicles and on bicycles.

In buildings with large numbers of employees, an AED will be placed on every floor near the elevators. Buildings with fewer employees will have one AED in the first-floor lobby near the elevator. Future phases will place AEDs on all floors of these school buildings.

More than 250,000 Americans die each year from sudden cardiac arrest, or abnormal heart rhythms, according to the American Heart Association, and about half of those events occur outside of a hospital. A person in cardiac arrest generally has about 4 minutes in which to receive life-saving defibrillation, which provides an electric shock to restore the heart to its normal rhythm. For every minute that passes without defibrillation, the chance of survival decreases by 7 percent to 10 percent.

Mary Z. Taylor, director of patient safety for the Faculty Practice Plan at the School of Medicine, said AEDs are becoming more common in airports, malls and schools, and it is timely and appropriate to install them in medical school facilities.

“As a leading medical center, Washington University has a commitment to excellence,” Taylor said. “It’s important that we have these life-saving devices accessible to our community.”

“The evidence is clear that AED is the difference in saving lives — good CPR is critical, but that’s not enough,” said Robert M. Kennedy, M.D., professor of pediatrics and one of the physician advisers spearheading the project. “There are many physicians, nurses and others in our office and research buildings with resuscitation expertise, but these areas have no resuscitation equipment because patients are not present. When a cardiac arrest occurs in an office or lab, trained providers on the scene can do no more than basic CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) and wait for emergency responders, losing critical minutes. Because of the size and complexity of the campus, it can be difficult for these outside rescuers to find someone in the 4- to 5-minute window,” he said. “This initiative will dramatically improve our chances to save that heart-attack victim.”

Brent E. Ruoff, M.D., associate professor and chief of emergency medicine, and David Tan, M.D., assistant professor of emergency medicine and medical director of the Public Access Defibrillator Program, also are physician advisers to the project.

The School of Medicine is purchasing AEDs that are about the size of a lunchbox and weigh 3.3 pounds each. The machines provide simple, oral instructions. The defibrillator pads include illustrations indicating where to place them on the patient. Once the pads are in place, the machine searches for a shockable rhythm, and, if necessary, shocks the patient and then instructs the user to call Protective Services at 362-HELP and begin CPR.

Taylor said the initiative includes additional support for training of School of Medicine staff. The program will encourage at least two volunteers per floor in each building who may already be certified in CPR and have duties that keep them primarily on-site to be trained to operate the AEDs and to perform CPR.

“The people we train do not have to be health-care professionals,” Taylor said. “Published studies have shown that trained lay volunteers can watch the training video and use the AEDs safely and effectively. Even without any training at all, these units are easy to use, and the instructions are easy to follow. Initiating help immediately while awaiting Protective Services’ arrival could save a life.”