Automated external defibrillators (AEDs)

What is an automated external defibrillator?

An automated external defibrillator (AED) is a small portable electronic device that analyzes the heart's rhythm and tells the user to deliver a defibrillation shock only if it is needed.

AEDs are designed to allow bystanders to respond to medical emergencies like sudden cardiac arrest. The devices are programmed to analyze the heart's electrical function. Voice prompts and screen displays explain how to attach electrodes onto the victim, then instruct users to stay clear while the AED analyzes his or her heart rhythm. See AED/CPR Training.


The Hutchinson Fire Department was granted two AEDs through the generous donation made to Heart Safe by Allina Health employees.

From right to left are: Hutchinson Allina Health EMS Supervisor Pat Egan, Heart Safe Communities Supervisor Katie Tewalt and Hutchinson Fire Lieutenant Randy Abelson

Automated external defibrillators (AEDs) are very accurate and will not shock someone who is not in cardiac arrest.

When used properly and with appropriate precautions, AEDs pose no risk to the rescuer or the patient.

Automated external defibrillators (AEDs) are easy to use. AEDs have pictures and voice prompts to guide the user through the process. All you need to do is turn it on and follow the instructions.

AEDs are safe. They will only shock a person who requires it.

Organizations like Allina Health Heart Safe Communities offer classes that can provide more specific and detailed training on the AED and cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR).

Police officers, firefighters, security officers, athletic trainers, flight attendants, lifeguards—people who are often first on the scene when sudden cardiac arrest occurs—often receive AED training and carry AEDs as part of their response kits.

Most experts agree that the benefits of prompt automated external defibrillator (AED) use outweigh the liability risks for three reasons:

  • If sudden cardiac arrest is left untreated, the victim will die.
  • AEDs on the market today are difficult to misuse.
  • AED use is becoming a legal standard of care. Failure to have access to an AED may cause greater legal exposure than the potential misuse of the device.

Good Samaritan laws in all 50 states offer immunity for AED users who have completed the required training. For example, Minnesota State Statute 604A.01, subdivision 2e, states that the non-professional user is exempt from civil liability.

Source: American Heart Association; Darren Boser, Lance Stephenson, A Heart for the Community: Public Access Defibrillation and the HeartSave Awareness Program, Access Medical Incorporated 2003; United States Food and Drug Administration
Reviewed By: Charles Lick, MD, medical director, Allina Health Emergency Medical Services
First Published: 05/06/2004
Last Reviewed: 03/01/2019