Is CPR more successful on TV than in real life?
On Grey’s Anatomy, House and other popular medical dramas, characters often save someone’s life by performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). Although the successful outcome of this lifesaving procedure makes for compelling drama, a new study suggests it’s not as common in real life.
Researchers from the University of Southern California Davis School of Gerontology looked at episodes of Grey’s Anatomy and House from 2010 and 2011, identifying 46 scenes involving CPR. Researchers found that the way these scenes were depicted differed widely from reality.
- A TV character’s life was saved by CPR in about seven in 10 cases, while the real-life survival rate is less than four in 10.
- About 50 percent of TV characters who had received CPR later recovered and were released from the hospital. In reality, only about 13 percent of those patients survive long-term.
- In the shows, CPR was given to people who had experienced a trauma 40 percent of the time. Trauma victims actually make up only about 2 percent of CPR recipients.
- Most depictions of CPR on TV were performed on adults ages 18 to 65. In the real world, more than 60 percent of CPR recipients are older than 65.
“The findings from this study emphasize the need for improved physician-patient communication and discussions around advance care planning decisions, such as CPR,” lead study author Jaclyn Portanova said in a news release. “Without these discussions, patients may rely on misinformation from TV in their decision-making.”
Unlike their TV character counterparts, most people are not trained in proper CPR techniques, says Dr. Patricia Lee, an emergency medicine physician at Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center in Chicago.
“It’s true that TV and movies can skew people’s view of medical situations and outcomes,” says Dr. Lee. “However, CPR can and does save lives. The key is knowing when to perform CPR and how to do it correctly. As medical professionals, we are trained in the proper techniques, but this is something anyone can learn.”
The American Heart Association recommends using hands-only CPR when a person collapses in a non-clinical setting. Hands-only CPR, or CPR without mouth-to-mouth breathing, involves two key steps:
- Calling 911 (or having someone else call)
- Pushing hard and fast in the center of the person’s chest to the beat of the disco song “Stayin’ Alive”
“People feel more confident performing CPR — and therefore are more likely to save a life — when they know what they’re doing,” says Dr. Lee. “Consider taking a CPR class through the Red Cross or another local organization.”
Dr. Lee also emphasizes that, in addition to CPR, early defibrillation is key to a person’s chance of survival.
“Uninterrupted bystander CPR should be performed until the paramedics arrive or a defibrillator is available,” she says.
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