Ambulance Victoria suspends trial after paramedic receives shock while restarting patient’s heart

Ambulance Victoria has halted the trial of a new defibrillating technique after a paramedic received an electric shock that threw her across the room while trying to restart the heart of a patient in northern Victoria.

Victorian Ambulance Union secretary Danny Hill said the advanced life support paramedic was trialling a method known as manual pressure augmentation on a cardiac arrest patient on Friday when she was zapped.

A paramedic has received an electric shock while trying to restart the heart of a patient.Credit:Wayne Taylor

The technique, which has been trialled by ambulance services in other jurisdictions, consists of applying pressure to the defibrillation pads placed on a patient’s chest with the palm or fist while the electric current restarts the heart to improve the conductivity of the shock. Paramedics do not touch the pads under the existing process.

The method is believed to improve patient outcomes in cases of cardiac arrest, particularly among larger patients.

The paramedic wasn’t seriously injured during the incident, but Hill said the shock was powerful enough to send her across the room. She was taken to the hospital as a precaution and later discharged.

“These defibrillators have the ability to stop a person’s heart, that’s what they are designed to do,” Hill said. “So in certain circumstances, it could actually have a very nasty effect on the operator.”

Victorian Ambulance Union secretary Danny Hill.

Hill said the incident had raised concern among paramedics about the safety of the method, which can be compromised by factors such as the surface a patient is laying on, the percentage of humidity in the air and proximity to other devices.

“A hospital is a controlled environment where they have better control of the various risks,” he said.

“Paramedics apply these techniques out in the field, on the road, in an uncontrolled environment with no knowledge of the sort of surfaces the patient might be lying on. It’s harder to control the hazards and control the risks than it is in the hospital.”

Hill said Ambulance Victoria began using the method on a volunteer basis last April but halted the clinical trial, known as AUGMENT-VA, after the union raised its concerns on Tuesday.

The trial is part of a partnership between the ambulance service, Monash University and Alfred Health, and has been approved by research governance and ethics committees.

“Maybe it is investigated and it is deemed to be safe, but it’s important that we understand what has occurred, so we can prevent that from ever occurring again,” Hill said.

It is not yet clear what led to the shock, which is believed to be the first incident of its kind since the program started. The incident has been reported to WorkSafe.

Ambulance Victoria medical director Associate Professor David Anderson said safety protocols were in place to reduce the risk to paramedics, including wearing double gloves and scanning the scene for potential risks.

“We take very seriously the safety of our staff and our patients and have decided that while the incident is being investigated, enrolments in the AUGMENT-VA trial will be suspended until further notice,” he said.

Anderson said manual pressure augmentation had been performed by ambulance paramedics on more than 120 patients, the equivalent of 600 cumulative defibrillations.

“The monitoring of safety and efficacy outcomes have been an essential part of the trial oversight and has provided great optimism that [the technique] will help improve survival outcomes for cardiac arrest patients,” he said.

WorkSafe was contacted for comment.

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