A UK-based study revealed that people are reluctant to use public access defibrillators to treat cardiac arrests. The analysis of existing international studies, which has been published in the European Heart Journal, suggests that several factors are preventing members of the public from using public access defibrillators and potentially saving lives.

The new study suggests that many members of the public don’t know what an automated external defibrillator (AED) is, where to find one, and how to use one. This is despite AEDs being suitable for use by untrained members of the public. Although studies show differing results, common themes regarding public AED use include a lack of confidence and fear of harm.

Gavin Perkins, professor of critical care medicine at the UK-based Warwick Medical School said: “A study conducted in the U.S. showed that the chance of survival was nearly double in the group that received CPR and were treated with a public access defibrillator compared to the group that received CPR alone.”

Although only a minority of out of hospital cardiac arrests occur in locations where use of a defibrillator would help save a life, AEDs are often poorly accessible or have limited availability; often, their location is not known to even emergency services or those running training schemes. They also found that although members of the public saw the value of AED training, most hadn’t undergone training.

The UK-based research team also examined the reasons for not obtaining an AED. Key reasons included: cost; concerns about liability; not being thought/not being considered necessary; lack of and/or attrition of responsible individuals; there was a good, local emergency service and there was a nearby hospital. One study reported that while 32% cited cost and 37% cited legal concerns as reasons not to obtain an AED, 55% thought affordability and 51% thought legal protection were good reasons to obtain an AED.

The study also highlighted that maintenance of AEDs was variable. One study reported that all but one of 206 AEDs were ‘operable’ and ready for use, but many AEDs were not maintained or had no formal plans in place for maintenance or replacement.