Surrogate consent by family members for out-of-hospital cardiac arrest research

Acad Emerg Med. 2001 Aug;8(8):851-3. doi: 10.1111/j.1553-2712.2001.tb00220.x.


Objectives: To evaluate the availability of family members of potential subjects to provide consent for participation in out-of-hospital cardiac arrest (OOHCA) research and to estimate the time required to contact a family member.

Methods: This study was a prospective observational study of adult patients (>18 years old) with nontraumatic OOHCA treated by an urban emergency medical service. Emergency medicine resident physicians responded to each scene and noted the presence of family members. A subsequent convenience sample of family members answered standardized questions about their ability to provide consent for research participation on behalf of the patient.

Results: Physicians were present at 100 of the 112 adult medical cardiac arrests during the study period. A family member was present at 57% of the scenes (95% CI = 47% to 67%). Patients with family present were older and were less likely to have bystander cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) or live in a nursing home. The mean time (+/-SE) from emergency dispatch to family contact was 24.40 (+/-2.60) minutes and from physician arrival to family contact was 2.45 (+/-0.87) minutes (n = 20). Eight of 13 family members were willing to enroll the patient into a resuscitation study, but five family members were unable to understand the explanation of informed consent.

Conclusions: Family members were present for an unrepresentative subset of OOHCA cases, and were contacted after the therapeutic window for many interventions. The emotional nature of the emergency situation also limited the reliability of surrogate consent for OOHCA research.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Ambulatory Care / psychology*
  • Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation / psychology
  • Decision Making
  • Evaluation Studies as Topic*
  • Family / psychology*
  • Heart Arrest / psychology*
  • Heart Arrest / therapy
  • Humans
  • Prospective Studies
  • Third-Party Consent*