How the public is misinformed about the outcomes of CPR

A survey of 1000 volunteer adults found 71% regularly watched medical television dramas, but only 12% said the shows “were a reliable source of health information.”

The participants were given some brief vignettes describing scenarios where CPR was administered—a 54-year-old who suffered a heart attack at home and received CPR by paramedics, an 80-year-old with a postoperative cardiac arrest in the hospital after surgery, and a post-traumatic arrest in an 8-year-old.

Those surveyed estimated CPR success rates at 57% to 72% and rates of long-term survival with neurologic recovery at 53% to 64%.

Depending on the circumstances surrounding the arrest and the baseline health status of the victim, rates of return of spontaneous circulation for CPR in cardiac arrest can be as high as 40% in one study. However according to the American Heart Association, long-term survival with intact neurologic function occurs in only about 8.3% of patients.

The survey was published ahead of print in the American Journal of Emergency Medicine. The authors noted that their survey results were similar to those of previous papers on this subject.

They pointed out that the public’s unrealistic expectations about CPR make it difficult for physicians to discuss end-of-life issues with patients and family. A previous paper found that about half of elderly patients changed their minds about requesting they be resuscitated after they found out what the true statistics were.

Not addressed in the paper, but nonetheless worth mentioning is the possibility that many of the survey’s participants did not want to admit or did not realize they considered TV dramas a reliable source of health information.

If you are on Twitter, you may be aware of a debate many of us physicians have been having with Amy Holden Jones (@aholdenj), the writer and producer of the medical TV drama “The Resident.” She claims she is exposing the dark side of medicine in the name of patient safety.

We say the glaring and sometimes laughable inaccuracies of the show create the very same unrealistic expectations the investigators found in their survey and what is worse, inflame the already rampant mistrust of doctors and medicine in general.

I would like to say that that the discussion with Ms. Jones has been productive, but I can’t. After a brief give-and-take, she has blocked every medical professional who criticized the show. The misinformation continues.

Redemption may be near. The show’s ratings are plummeting.

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