Portable Defibrillators

If you look around you'll see them everywhere. They usually hang on the walls in airports, lobbies, schools, and other public places, but automated external defibrillators (AEDs) are becoming more and more prevalent in people's homes, cars, and offices.

Thanks to some companies pushing the envelope to make defibrillators safer and easier to use, they are now available over the counter without a prescription.

Index:

Buying a Portable Defibrillator:

Sudden cardiac arrest kills more people than traffic accidents, handguns, house fires, prostate cancer, breast cancer, and AIDS combined, about 350,000 per year.

It can happen to seemingly healthy people, but those with coronary heart disease and the elderly are at high risk. A family history of arrhythmias or heart related problems can also indicate higher risk.

While AEDs have been conclusively shown to save lives, keeping one in your house will far from guarantee a positive outcome after an SCA. Although SCAs can happen anytime, anywhere, 75% of them occur at home[2]. Therefore portable defibrillators for those at high risk should save lives, but it’s not quite that simple.

DefibrillatorTarno20150716
  1. AEDs cannot be used by the person in cardiac arrest, so there must be another person nearby to see it happen. SCAs aren’t a common occurrence and may not happen to everyone who is at high risk, so it’s usually impractical to keep tabs on a high risk family member 24/7, especially considering at least 6-8 hours of each day are spent sleeping. In fact less than half of SCAs at home are witnessed[2].
  2. When an AED isn’t kept in the house and the first shock comes from arriving paramedics, the victim’s chance of survival is only 2%. One study found the survival rate of SCAs at home increased from 2% to 12% when an AED was kept in the house, but those numbers might not be completely accurate because the study didn’t have enough participants to accurately represent the whole population.
  3. SCAs usually happen so fast the person having one cannot notify anyone.
  4. Instead of having AEDs in homes or targeting specific, high-risk patients, AEDs are most efficiently used in high traffic areas. For this reason many public places like airports, schools, and office buildings have defibrillators available in wall-mounted cases.

The bottom line is that portable defibrillators are expensive and only raise your chance of success from terrible to bad, but they do raise your chance of success. Taking a CPR course as a family along with having a portable defibrillator will also improve outcomes.

Philips Heartstart OnSite/Home Defibrillator

  1. Voice instructions guide you through either adult or infant/child CPR.
  2. Daily automatic self-tests alert you when the defibrillator has a problem.
  3. The AED does not shock the patient by itself. It verifies that a shock is needed, then you push the button.
  4. Comes with a 5-year warranty.
  5. The Infant/Child pads cartridge is sold separately, and only available by prescription.

Specs

Philips heartstart home defibrillator
  • Weight: 3.3lbs (1.5kg)
  • Dimensions: 9.5˝ (24 cm) x 8.5˝ (21 cm) x 4.8˝ (12 cm)
  • 4 year standby battery life
  • Delivers 200 shocks minimum
  • Shocks within 8 seconds post CPR

You can find technical specifications for this portable defibrillator here.

Included Items

  • Defibrillator
  • Red carry case with 911/EMS card
  • Adult SMART Pads cartridge (lasts 2 years)
  • Battery (lasts 4 years)
  • Training video
  • Discount coupons for CPR training at American Heart Association, American Red Cross or Medic First Aid

Pros and Cons

Pros: No prescription needed, light weight, inexpensive

Cons: No CPR quality feedback

Note: If an AED requires a prescription, it will come with the device.

Price

The Philips Heartstart Home defibrillator is the cheapest defibrillator I have found. Although the price changes, it usually costs around $1,000.

Despite having no functional differences, the Home defibrillator is sometimes offered at a significantly cheaper price compared to the OnSite defibrillator. The products function exactly the same way; the only difference is their warranties. The Home defibrillator’s warranty will only cover malfunctions that happen in the home. The OnSite warranty covers the portable defibrillator anywhere.

Portability

  • Small and light enough to fit easily in a backpack or be carried by the handle.
  • No handle on device but carrying case has handle.
  • Accessories are available for rugged use including a hard waterproof carrying case.

Zoll AED Plus

  1. Voice instructions guide you through either adult or infant/child CPR.
  2. Weekly automatic self-tests alert you when the defibrillator has a problem. Self-tests can be configured to occur every 1-7 days.
  3. The AED can shock the patient by itself if the fully automatic option is purchased. Otherwise, it verifies that a shock is needed, then you push the button.
  4. The Infant/Child pads are sold separately
Zoll aed plus

Specs

  • Weight: 6.7lbs (3.1kg)
  • Dimensions: 5.25˝ (13.3 cm) x 9.50˝ (24.1 cm) x 11.50˝ (29.2 cm)
  • 5 year standby battery life
  • Delivers 225 shocks minimum
  • 13 hours of patient monitoring
  • Red X appears when battery is capable of about 9 more shocks

You can find technical specifications for this portable defibrillator here.

Included Items

  • Defibrillator (7 yr warranty)
  • Adult Pads (lasts 5 years)
  • Battery (lasts 5 years)

Disclaimer: Included items may vary depending on the seller.

Pros and Cons

Pros: Provides feedback on CPR quality, long battery and pad life

Cons: Heavier than other models, requires prescription

Note: The AED comes with a prescription, but since it requires a prescription, it must be sold through specific retailers.

Price

While the price differs with time and location, I was quoted around $1,500 for the Zoll AED Plus.

The Zoll AED Plus is more expensive than other defibrillators, but Zoll boasts a longer battery and pad shelf life than most other brands. This may bring them to be on par with other brands in the long term.

Portability

  • Easy to carry but heavier and bulkier than other models
  • Built in handle
  • Limited accessories available for rugged use

To contact Zoll about the AED Plus see here.

Cardiac Science G3/G5

  1. The G3 costs less but is less customizable and has fewer features than the G5.
  2. Voice instructions guide you through either adult or infant/child CPR.
  3. Daily, weekly, and monthly automatic self-tests alert you when the defibrillator has a problem.
  4. The AED can shock the patient by itself if the fully automatic option is purchased. Otherwise, it verifies that a shock is needed, then you push the button.
  5. Comes with a 7-year(G3) or 8-year(G5) warranty on the device and a 4-year warranty on the battery.
  6. The Infant/Child pads are sold separately.

Specs

  • G3 weight: 6.6lbs (3.1kg) / G5 weight: 5.7lbs (2.6kg)
  • G3 dimensions: 3.3˝ (8 cm) x 12.4˝ (31 cm) x 10.6˝ (27 cm) / G5 dimensions: 3.4˝ (9 cm) x 9.0˝ (23 cm) x 11.8˝ (30 cm)
  • 4 year standby battery life

G3 Full Techincal Specifications

G5 Full Technical Specifications

Included Items

  • Defibrillator
  • IntelliSense battery (9146) (4 year standby life)
  • Adult defibrillator pads (2 year expiration date)
  • Instructional CD and AED Manual
  • Training Video
  • Rescuelink and MDLink
  • Serial communication cable

Disclaimer: Included items may vary depending on the seller.

Pros and Cons

Pros: Interchangeable pads

Cons: Requires prescription, heavier than some other models

Note: The AED comes with a prescription, but since it requires a prescription, it must be sold through specific retailers.

Price

Prices may vary based on location and time. I was quoted about $1,200 for the G3 and $1,500 for the G5.

The G5 costs more because it is more customizeable, has more features, and the warranty is 1 year longer.

Portability

  • Heavier than the lightest models
  • Built in handle on device
  • Accessories are available for rugged use including a hard waterproof carrying case.
  • Water and dust resistant but cannot be submerged

To contact Cardiac Science about the G3 or G5 AED, see here.

Portable Defibrillator Accessories

When purchasing an AED you may also consider purchasing several other items that will be useful for a CPR scenario.

CPR training-05

1. CPR Pocket Mask - The mask has a 1-way valve to provide assisted breathing during CPR. It covers the patient's mouth and nose and provides a barrier to prevent the transfer of body fluids between you and the patient.

A smaller alternative to the pocket mask is a disposable plastic barrier with a 1-way valve. If you already have a portable defibrillator, the pocket mask will fit easily inside the AED case, so size shouldn't be an issue. The disposable barrier comes in a little pouch that is small enough to fit on a keychain. When giving breaths with the disposable barrier you will need to hold the nose shut as the barrier only covers the mouth.

When providing CPR, having a barrier is a very good idea because patients often vomit due to the pre-existing heart condition that caused the heart attack or during chest compressions from pressure on the stomach.

2. Pediatric AED Pads - The AED comes with pads that are sized for adults. Pediatric pads are designed for children under 8 years old or under 55 lbs (25 kg). If you are in a situation where a child has a heart attack and you only have adult pads, an AED CAN still be used.

For small children place the right-shoulder pad on the chest and the left-ribs pad on the back. The AED will decide whether or not to shock the patient. When paramedics arrive on the scene they will remove the pads and replace them with their own. When using pediatric pads each one will have pictures that show where it goes.

3. Nitrile Gloves - Often times the patient will vomit during CPR. If something is stuck inside their mouth the first responder needs to swipe it out. The point is, gloves will protect you and the patient from exchanging body fluids.

Portable Defibrillator Tips

  1. You CAN'T use this on yourself.
  2. A portable defibrillator CAN be used on a pregnant woman. In order to save the baby you have to save the mother.
  3. If a child goes into sudden cardiac arrest and you only have adult defibrillator pads, you SHOULD connect the pads regardless. The AED will decide whether to shock.
  4. When instructing bystanders to call 911 and/or get an AED it’s most effective to point at a single individual. Giving general commands to a crowd makes it confusing who is supposed to go.
  5. The use of an AED is covered under Good Samaritan laws. This means that if you use a portable defibrillator to help someone in good faith, you cannot be held responsible should something go wrong[3].
  6. New research shows that raising the legs during CPR causes increased blood flow to important organs like the brain, increasing the chance of survival[4].

Summary:

  • Coronary heart disease, family history, and old age increase risk of sudden cardiac arrest
  • Portable defibrillators are extremely easy to use
  • Philips Heartstart OnSite/Home Defibrillator only non-prescription AED
  • Only difference between OnSite and Home defibrillators is warranty
  • Use CPR in conjunction with AED
  • If sudden cardiac arrest is witnessed, call 911, get AED, start CPR in that order

Additional Resources:

  1. What is a Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA)
  2. What is an AED Defibrillator
  3. How the heart works
  4. Learn CPR
  5. Cardiovascular Resources

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About Peter Oldani - Author of Inside First Aid

About the author

Peter Oldani graduated college with a B.S. in biomedical engineering, worked as an EMT to gain hands on experience in emergency medicine and completed active shooter training as part of New York State’s initiative to prepare civilian organizations for disaster response.