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Study Shows AEDs Go Unused: 3 Things You Must Know to be Prepared

Things You Must Know to be Prepared to use an AED in the case of a sudden cardiac arrest

Imagine you’re in a shopping mall when a man walking by collapses. A bystander swoops down next to him, yelling out that the man may have had a sudden cardiac arrest (SCA). Another bystander quickly calls 911. Your heart races as you wonder how you can help.

You think you may have walked past an AED, or automated external defibrillator, a few minutes earlier. You know only a little about them – that they can help restart a person’s heart. However, since you lack medical training, you’re not sure if you’re supposed to use one – or even how to use one.

New research suggests that scenarios like the hypothetical one above are common. Of nearly 1,800 out-of-hospital SCA cases reviewed in Kansas City, Missouri between 2019-2022, an AED was used just 13 times – even though the SCA occurred near one, according to the research.

Most SCAs included in the study (about 85%) occurred at home. Researchers calculated that:

  • about 25% occurred within a four-minute walk of an AED.
  • a bystander administered CPR in 42% of the cases, but an AED was never used.
  • Of the 15% that occurred in public:
  • an AEDs was again available within a four-minute walk, but only used in 7% of cases.
  • bystander CPR was administered in 42% of cases.

It’s not clear why AEDs aren’t used more, but researchers suggest it may be due to bystanders not knowing what an AED does, not knowing where to find one, or not feeling confident in their ability to use one.

Researchers also suggest the findings could highlight the needs for improved signage, apps, or mapping tools to help people locate AEDs – plus increased education, and awareness through community volunteer training programs.  

Here are three things you can do to boost your AED know-how and be ready to take charge when you encounter someone in SCA, potentially saving a life.

1.     Know what at AED is

An AED is a small, portable medical device that can be used during a SCA to try and shock the victim’s heart back into a normal rhythm. Designed to be used by bystanders with little or no medical training, an AED – along with calling 911 and administering CPR –  is a link the SCA chain of survival, meant to keep the victim in good enough health until emergency help can arrive and take over. Often, paramedics arrive after several minutes to find a victim who hasn’t received CPR or AED support, and it’s too late to help. 

An AED includes electrode pads to attach to the victim’s chest. The device analyzes the heart rhythm and determines whether a shock is needed. Only some abnormal heart rhythms are shockable. Fortunately, the most common type is one of them.

The AED may instruct a person to press a button to deliver an electric shock if one is warranted, or it may deliver it automatically.  

2.     Know where to find one

AEDs are increasingly common in public thanks to efforts by public safety, medical, and community leaders to make them more available. Many states require them in public places, such as airports, shopping malls, schools, and gyms.

Be aware of your surroundings. Look around to see if you can spot an AED. Make a mental note when you see one. They’re often located near a building entrance or in a lobby area. Look for an “AED” sign. Some locations may have a map showing where the AEDs are located. Being prepared will help you better respond in the event of an emergency. 

Ask for help if you’re not sure where an AED is located. Other bystanders may have seen one. Onsite staff will know.

3.     Know how to feel confident using one

If you lack the confidence to use AED, don’t worry, you’re not alone. Many people without medical training are bound to feel intimidated at first. Rest assured that AEDs are safe to use and user-friendly. You won’t harm the victim and it’s highly unlikely you’ll harm yourself or other bystanders. The devices are carefully designed and highly regulated to ensure safety and ease of use.

Once you turn on the AED, voice instructions, plus simple illustrations, will guide you through the process.

A little practice can go a long way to building your confidence. Consider taking a CPR/AED class or watching AED tutorials online. The more you learn and practice, the more natural it’ll feel.

More about sudden cardiac arrest

Out-of-hospital SCA is a leading cause of death in the U.S. Of the 356,000 people who experience one each year, less than 10% survive.  When SCA strikes, blood immediately stops flowing to the brain, heart, lungs, and rest of the body. Brain cells begin to die within a few minutes. After about 10 minutes, the chances of the person’s survival are slim.

You can identify a person who is likely in SCA if they are unconscious and unresponsive, have no heartbeat, no pulse, and aren’t breathing.


At Starting Hearts, we can provide you with specific training for making a life-saving difference.

Contact us for more information:


Samantha Chapman is a registered nurse and healthcare writer from Ohio.