Defibrillators; Past, Present and (Back to) the Future


Today marks the day that Marty McFly and Doc Brown went ‘Back to the Future’ in the Robert Zemeckis 1989 film ‘Back to the Future Part 2’. We thought we would honour the day by taking a look back at the creation of the defibrillator, the present day AED and what the future could hold for defibrillator technology.


The Past

In 1903 the first electrocardiograph machine was invented by William Einthoven. He later won the Nobel Prize in 1924 for his revolutionary invention which allowed us to understand and monitor the heart’s rhythmic pattern via wave form.

In 1947 Dr Claude Beck saves a life using a defibrillator machine to correct ventricular fibrillation (VF). Beck was an American born cardiac surgeon who is famous for designing and innovating various cardiac surgery techniques including the development of the very first defibrillator.

Initially, Beck tried to massage the heart with his hand which developed to successfully reviving a 14 year old boy with the world’s first defibrillator unit which used spoons, yes spoons, as electrode pads.

During the 1980s the first Automated External Defibrillators (AEDs) were clinically tested and put into production before in 1985 (the very date and time Marty McFly and Doc Brown begin experimenting with the space and time continuum via a DeLorean car), the first Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator (ICD) is invented by Michel Mirowski.

The small electronic device could monitor and correct abnormal heart rhythms and was implanted on those that have suffered two or more cardiac arrests (Although we doubt he used plutonium and a flux-capacitor to power the device!).

The Present

2015 – Marty and Doc have arrived in the future and have found that defibrillators are slowly being deployed into the public domain. AED campaigns and programmes assist in the awareness of cardiac arrest and the use of defibrillators. But they are yet to be made mandatory in public buildings.

We have an array of defibrillators and manufacturers around the world with AED’s created with ease of use in mind ensuring that any first responder can use a defibrillator to help save someone who has suffered a cardiac arrest, no matter what level of training they have.

All modern AEDs use professional grade technology within their subsystems and easy to operate exterior and interface to ensure that everyone can use them in an emergency and provide lifesaving treatment in the immediate minutes following a cardiac arrest.

Current statistics show that if CPR is performed and a defibrillator is used within 3-5 minutes of cardiac arrest, a patient’s survival chances increase from 6% to 74%. However in the UK there are over 30,000 cardiac arrests per year outside of hospital – where emergency services attempt resuscitation, and only one in ten victims survive to be discharged.

The Future

So what does the future hold for defibrillator technology and the progression of survival figures in the UK?

Just last year we saw prototypes in Holland for a Flying Drone Defibrillator (something Marty McFly would definitely take a liking too with the obvious ‘hoverboard’ omission from our current technological era – this needs rectifying!).

The experimental flying unit can reach speeds of up to 60mph and can carry a four kilogram load. The drone can fly to an incident within a 12 square kilometre radius (4.6 miles) within a minute using GPS navigation and could prove to be a great asset in the future for supplying lifesaving technology quickly to remote locations.

We’ve also encountered ‘Defibrillator Vending Machines’ in Japan. The machine, whilst still being able to sell the usual chocolate bars and drinks, has an AED stored underneath the products. The defibrillator is for anyone to use and is accessible via an unlocked door which is alarmed to discourage theft and alert the public to the emergency situation.

Hopefully in the near future these will be rolled out world wide as a way of identifying and locating a defibrillator easily in an emergency situation. Turning an everyday piece of technology into a defibrillator hot spot presents a great opportunity to raise awareness of the machines and their whereabouts.

In the UK, we have a number of old telephone boxes which have been converted to house defibrillators, especially in small town and village locations where residents have pooled together to provide their home with lifesaving equipment.

Hopefully, with the continued upward trend of defibrillators being placed in public places and more and more people becoming aware of cardiac arrest we will see increased survival figures and a complete heart safe UK with AEDs deployed across the country.

Now, all we need is that ‘hoverboard’...

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