They are so commonplace today that they hardly draw attention…what’s that you say? AED…Automatic External Defibrillators. Once a rarity in a public place they now seem to be in most public places: airports, malls, schools, churches and many businesses. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced that it was moving to toughen regulation of the industry that produces heart defibrillators — devices that are used to jolt a failing heart back into its regular rhythm — after tens of thousands of malfunctions and hundreds of deaths in recent years.
In one case, a nurse was trying to hook up a defibrillator to a patient in cardiac arrest when its electronic screen read “memory full” and then shut down, according to one example provided by the F.D.A. The patient soon died. In another case, a software defect caused the device to show an “equipment disabled” message. That patient also died.
There have been 45,000 reports of the devices failing or malfunctioning since 2005, agency officials said. The vast majority of them were due to manufacturing problems, officials said, but some were because of improper maintenance, such as battery failure. Manufacturers have recalled the devices 88 times in that period.
The problems led the agency to propose a change that would allow it to more closely monitor how the devices — known as automated external defibrillators, or A.E.D.’s — are designed and made. There are about 2.4 million such devices in public places across the country.
Today, the agency issued an order that, if finalized after a public comment period, would require manufacturers to submit details of their designs and the controls they use in buying defibrillator components, many of which are produced abroad. Regulators would also be able to inspect manufacturers’ factories.
Death rates from cardiac arrests have changed little since the 1980s, when defibrillators first became widely available to the public. Experts say those grim statistics could change if more of the devices were accessible to more people. Bystanders use them in just 5 percent of cardiac arrests, according to data from the Emory University School of Medicine, in part because patients usually become ill in private homes where there are no defibrillators.