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Newspapers exaggerate survival after cardiac arrest

Newspapers tend to over-report cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) success stories, resulting in a skewed public perception of survival and neurological outcome after cardiac arrest, according to research published recently in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine (JRSM).1

The study, led by Richard Field (Clinical Research Assistant, Heart of England NHS Foundation Trust), examined all UK newspaper articles published between 1 January and 30 June 2010 containing the words ‘cardiac arrest’, ‘CPR’ or ‘resuscitation’. 181 articles were identified as referring to individual cardiac arrests occurring outside hospital. In this group newspapers reported that 17.7% survived to hospital discharge, almost all with good neurological outcome. This compares with an estimated survival rate of less than 10% for out-of-hospital cardiac arrests in Europe.

The public were found to estimate survival rates following CPR at over 50%, whereas survival to discharge is actually less than 10% for out-of-hospital arrests and 10–20% for in hospital arrests. It is likely that the majority of perceptions are formed through the portrayal of resuscitation in fictional medical dramas, researchers say.

Glamorised picMr Field said: “Public perception of outcome following a cardiac arrest is very important as it has the potential to influence the motivation for learning and performing CPR as well as making and/or supporting do not attempt cardiopulmonary resuscitation (DNACPR) decisions”.

The Resuscitation Council (UK), which funded the study, advocates a joint approach to DNACPR decision-making. This can involve both the patient, or those close to the patient and the clinical team. They emphasise the importance of accurate public perception regarding cardiac arrest survival, to ensure correct decisions are made and expectations are realistic.

Resuscitations in a public place and involving heroic bystander CPR attempts are more likely to attract the media looking for high-impact news stories, the authors suggest.  In reality around 70% of cardiac arrests occur at home and only 36% of these patients will receive bystander CPR, compared with bystander CPR performed in 75% of events occurring in a public place.


1 Field RA, Soar J, Nolan JP, Perkins GD. Epidemiology and outcome of cardiac arrests reported in the lay-press: an observational study.  J R Soc Med. 2011;104:525—31. doi:10.1258/jrsm.2011.110228.

Published on: January 10, 2012

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