Resuscitation on television: realistic or ridiculous? A quantitative observational analysis of the portrayal of cardiopulmonary resuscitation in television medical drama

Resuscitation. 2009 Nov;80(11):1275-9. doi: 10.1016/j.resuscitation.2009.07.008. Epub 2009 Aug 20.


Introduction: Patients' preferences for cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) relate to their perception about the likelihood of success of the procedure. There is evidence that the lay public largely base their perceptions about CPR on their experience of the portrayal of CPR in the media. The medical profession has generally been critical of the portrayal of CPR on medical drama programmes although there is no recent evidence to support such views.

Objective: To compare the patient characteristics, cause and success rates of cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) on medical television drama with published resuscitation statistics.

Design: Observational study.

Method: 88 episodes of television medical drama were reviewed (26 episodes of Casualty, Casualty, 25 episodes of Holby City, 23 episodes of Grey's Anatomy and 14 episodes of ER) screened between July 2008 and April 2009. The patient's age and sex, medical history, presumed cause of arrest, use of CPR and immediate and long term survival rate were recorded.

Main outcome measures: Immediate survival and survival to discharge following CPR.

Results: There were a total of 76 cardio-respiratory arrests and 70 resuscitation attempts in the episodes reviewed. The immediate success rate (46%) did not differ significantly from published real life figures (p=0.48). The resuscitation process appeared to follow current guidelines. Survival (or not) to discharge was rarely shown. The average age of patients was 36 years and contrary to reality there was not an age related difference in likely success of CPR in patients less than 65 compared with those 65 and over (p=0.72). The most common cause of cardiac arrest was trauma with only a minor proportion of arrests due to cardio-respiratory causes such as myocardial infarction.

Conclusions: Whilst the immediate success rate of CPR in medical television drama does not significantly differ from reality the lack of depiction of poorer medium to long term outcomes may give a falsely high expectation to the lay public. Equally the lay public may perceive that the incidence and likely success of CPR is equal across all age groups.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation / mortality
  • Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation / psychology
  • Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation / statistics & numerical data*
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Drama*
  • Female
  • Heart Arrest / mortality
  • Heart Arrest / therapy*
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Information Dissemination / methods*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Patient Preference*
  • Survival Rate / trends
  • Television*
  • United Kingdom
  • Young Adult