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Can a Public Art Contest Increase the Use of AEDs? A Philadelphia Research Project

  • Friday, 7 February 2014

In this 3-minute, 35-second video, Raina Merchant, MD, explains the new Penn Defibrillator Design Challenge.

By Hoag Levins

A University of Pennsylvania research team that last year used crowdsourcing techniques to locate and digitally map 1,400 automated external defibrillators in Philadelphia has launched a new crowdsourcing project to develop eye-catching graphic designs that will make AEDs more visible in public spaces.

Called the Penn Defibrillator Design Challenge, the national contest offers prizes up to $1,000 and has launched the website DefibDesignChallenge.com to solicit submissions and facilitate
Mariell Jessup
Photo: Hoag Levins
Penn's Mariell Jessup, who is also the President of the American Heart Association pointed out that about 1,000 people suffer sudden cardiac arrests every day in the U.S. Only 10% survive.
public voting on design ideas that transform often-hidden AED utility boxes into dramatic wall art that demands attention.

Month-long contest
The national contest, which runs from February 6 to March 6, was launched earlier this week at a ceremony in Philadelphia's 30th Street Amtrak Station and included the installation of a three-dimensional promotional assembly around an AED. Amtrak is a partner in the project because train stations are among the high-traffic facilities where sudden cardiac arrests often happen.

After the winning design entries are announced, the next phase of the project will be to physically install those concepts in various buildings around Philadelphia and analyze what effect they have on public understanding or use of AEDs.

AEDs are portable, battery-power devices that can be used to shock a person who has suffered a sudden cardiac arrest -- or stoppage of the heart. Although as many as a million AEDs are in place in public spaces across the country, they are used in only about 4% of sudden cardiac arrest cases. One reason for this is that the public doesn't understand what they are; another is that they are often difficult to find.

Hidden in plain sight
"The challenge is that AEDs are so often 'hidden in plain sight' around corners or behind doors and not well marked," said Design Challenge director Raina Merchant, MD, a Professor of Emergency Medicine at Penn's Perelman School of Medicine, Director of the new Penn Social Media and Health Innovation Lab, and Senior Fellow at the Leonard Davis Institute of Health Economics. "So, people walk right by them without seeing them or thinking any more about them. That's what we want to change."

"This project is at the intersection of public health and public art," Merchant
Benjamin Abella
Photo: Hoag Levins
Penn Emergency Medicine Professor Benjamin Abella demonstrated how to use an AED at the launch event.
continued. "The goal is to use this contest and social media systems to engage artists, designers and the public in a really important health challenge."

The seriousness of the public health issue was underscored by launch ceremony keynote speaker Mariell Jessup, MD, the Medical Director of the Penn Medicine Heart & Vascular Center as well as the President of the American Heart Association.

1,000 people daily
"Sudden cardiac arrest effects about 1,000 people outside hospitals EVERY DAY and only 10% survive," she said. "But we know that when bystanders perform CPR and use AEDs before the ambulance arrives that about 40% of victims survive. That's why it's so crucial to help the public become more familiar with CPR and how to use an AED during an emergency."

Benjamin Abella, MD, a Penn emergency medicine professor who spoke at the launch event, captured the sense of frustration that many in the field of cardiac care have about the low level of AED use across much of the country.

"In those communities that DO have very strong CPR responses and well-developed AED programs, survival of cardiac arrest is as high as 30 or 40%," he said. "That's five times greater than the national average."

"The challenge," Abella said, "is not that of discovering new and innovative treatments but rather finding solutions to implement what we already know works and have available."

Typographic furniture
The Defibrillator Design Challenge was a collaborative effort of Merchant's team and another team at Penn Design headed by Orkan Telhan, PhD, Assistant Professor of Fine Arts and Emerging Design Practices at Penn's School of Design. To demonstrate the kind of out-of-the-box thinking the
Orkan Telhan
Photo: Hoag Levins
Penn Design's Orkan Telhan explains the typographical chairs that spell out 'AED' and invite people to sit for conversations about the life-saving device.
contest hopes to be about, they created a 3D installation that sits in the corner of the Amtrak Station's massive hall. It includes a bright red kiosk with an AED and posters explaining how to use it. Scattered around that are five bright red chairs shaped like the letters "AED" along with a hash tag and @ sign.

"It seemed important that we create something beyond just a 2D poster or banner," said Telhan. Instead, his crew came up with typographic chairs made of solid and very dense wood weighing nearly 200 pounds each.

Art you walk through
"You don't just see this; you walk through it or sit down in it as a conversation area and experience it in a way that we hope increases your awareness of a very important public health issue," he said.

And it appears to work, according to Merchant who recounted her experience the night before the launch ceremony when she and other team members were setting up the installation.

"We had two people here in the Amtrak Station come over to us and start telling their story about how each had used an AED to save someone's life," said Merchant. "Then we had others coming over and looking at the chair spelling out "AED" and asking what that means. And on the heels of that someone from Drexel came by and wanted to collaborate with us on this."

"So," Merchant continued, "in the first twenty minutes after the display went up, it created a conversation space for people to both talk about and learn about AEDs. It really doesn't get much better than that."

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Hoag Levins is a journalist and Managing Editor of Digital Publications at the Leonard Davis Institute of Health Economics.

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