Sept. 20 2006 12:00 AM

Health clubs have been known to save lives, but the results are not usually as quick and visible as some members have recently seen. Due to new legislation in many states, as well as the preventive concern of many health club owners, automated external defibrillators (AEDs) are becoming as common as fire extinguishers and they are saving health club members' lives.

            An AED is a device that delivers a jolt of electricity to someone in cardiac arrest. It is purposely designed for easy use for people with little or no training. While some health clubs may be reluctant to install such a piece of equipment, it may mean saving a member's life. Airports, police vehicles, malls, universities and companies of all kinds are installing these devices in their businesses in case of emergencies. It seems only reasonable that health clubs, where the possibilities of heart problems may be revealed, should have AEDs.


How AEDs Work

            An AED works by converting one specific fatal heart rhythm called ventricular fibrillation, which can spontaneously occur in muscle scarred from a previous heart attack or during a heart attack, into a normal one. When cardiac arrest occurs, time is very important because if a victim does not receive an electrical shock to re-stabilize the heart rhythm within ten minutes, very often they do not survive. But an AED can shock the heart in order to stop it, which then allows it to start beating at its normal pace.

            Ventricular fibrillation is usually the first evidence of heart disease, which is often undiagnosed before an occurrence. According to the American Heart Association (AHA), sudden cardiac arrest is responsible for approximately 340,000 adult deaths in the US each year that occur outside the hospital or in the emergency department. Approximately 95% of those who suffer sudden cardiac arrest outside a hospital die. Although many still rely on the skills of CPR, it cannot restore a normal heartbeat; it can only prolong the time before the heart goes to an even deadlier rhythm.

            Cardiac arrest is not the same as a heart attack, where the blood supply to part of the heart is reduced or stopped. Symptoms of cardiac arrest include abrupt loss of consciousness with no pulse or normal breathing. Heart attacks are usually linked with shortness of breath and chest pain.

            AEDs have been called virtually foolproof and do not require a medical professional. It has a voice prompt which instructs the operator through the process. The AED then uses a built-in computer to interpret the patient's heart rhythms through electrodes with a 90+% accuracy rate. Once it has been determined if a shock is needed, the AED instructs the operator how and when. However, even though an AED is easy to use, the AHA still recommends that entities with this equipment train at least several people to be designated operators.


Is It the Law?

            Legislation concerning health clubs and AEDs has been popping up in several states including Rhode Island, Louisiana, New York, Illinois and New Jersey and has been passed in all but New Jersey. Beginning in January 2005, Rhode Island and Louisiana health clubs are required to have AEDs in facilities, but the states also provide liability protection. Illinois will follow suit in January of 2006. In variation, beginning in July 2005, New York law only require clubs with over 500 members to purchase an AED.

            Will this legislation trend find its way to your state soon? It is a possibility; however, the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association (IHRSA) has concluded that "there is not a legal standard of care that requires that [AEDs] be in all fitness centers," believing that "such legislation is often applied too broadly and will not take into account the reality of the many different kinds of businesses that exist in the fitness industry." However, IHRSA does encourage health clubs to consider installing AEDs.



            In this day and age of law suits for every minor infraction, many business owners avoid making investments in equipment, such as an AED, fearing it will only lead to liability issues. However, many states are beginning to offer protection and more will follow soon. In the mean time, it is interesting to note the number of lawsuits involving AEDs. According to the Early Defibrillation Law and Policy Center in Oregon, there have been 10 lawsuits concerning AEDs. All of these lawsuits were against a place such as an airline, health club, school or theme park. And surprisingly, the suits did not concern misused equipment, but were filed because these establishments did not have an AED and someone died. But, it is important to know that the possibility of suits still remains for such reasons as having an AED and not using it, etc.


Making the Investment

            AEDs are a substantial investment, but prices have dropped recently from $3,000 to $5,000 to approximately $2,000. And with the increasing number of health club members over 50 and the heart disease epidemic facing the US, an AED, along with the proper training, may seem like one of the best investments a fitness facility can make.


Alicia Hammond is the Managing Editor of Personal Fitness Professional. Contact her at


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