The consequences of noncompliance with guidelines for withholding or terminating resuscitation in traumatic cardiac arrest patients

J Trauma. 2011 Oct;71(4):997-1002. doi: 10.1097/TA.0b013e3182318269.


Background: The validity of current guidelines regarding resuscitation of patients in traumatic cardiopulmonary arrest (TCPA) and the ability of emergency medical services (EMS) to appropriately apply them have been called into question. The purpose of this study is to demonstrate the consequences of violating the current published guidelines and whether EMS personnel were able to accurately identify patients in TCPA.

Methods: We conducted a retrospective review of our Level I trauma center's database that identified 294 patients over an 8-year period (January 1, 2003, to December 31, 2010) who suffered prehospital TCPA and met criteria for the withholding or termination of resuscitation based on current guidelines. Patient demographics, prehospital/emergency department physiology, survival, neurologic outcome, and hospital charges were analyzed.

Results: One of 294 patients (0.3%) survived to reach hospital discharge with a Glasgow Coma Scale score of 6. The total costs incurred for these 294 patients meeting criteria for withholding or termination of resuscitation were $3,852,446.65. One hundred seventeen (39.8%) patients were evaluated by more than one EMS team. There was 100% agreement on the presence (15 of 15) or absence (102 of 102) of a pulse between the EMS teams.

Conclusions: Our data support the current guidelines regarding the withholding or termination of resuscitation of patients in prehospital TCPA and represent the largest series to date on this topic. EMS personnel were able to accurately determine traumatic cardiac arrest in the field in this series. Violation of the current guidelines resulted in six patients being resuscitated to a neurologically devastated state. No loss of neurologically intact survivors would have resulted had strict adherence to the guidelines been maintained.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation / economics
  • Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation / standards*
  • Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation / statistics & numerical data
  • Female
  • Guideline Adherence
  • Hospital Charges
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Out-of-Hospital Cardiac Arrest / economics
  • Out-of-Hospital Cardiac Arrest / mortality
  • Out-of-Hospital Cardiac Arrest / therapy*
  • Resuscitation Orders*
  • Retrospective Studies