It isn't like this on TV: Revisiting CPR survival rates depicted on popular TV shows

Resuscitation. 2015 Nov:96:148-50. doi: 10.1016/j.resuscitation.2015.08.002. Epub 2015 Aug 19.


Background: Public perceptions of cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) can be influenced by the media. Nearly two decades ago, a study found that the rates of survival following CPR were far higher in popular TV shows than actual rates. In recent years, major strides toward enhanced education and communication around life sustaining interventions have been made. This study aimed to reassess the accuracy of CPR portrayed by popular medical TV shows. Additionally, we sought to determine whether these shows depicted discussions of care preferences and referenced advance directives.

Methods: Three trained research assistants independently coded two leading medical dramas airing between 2010 and 2011, Grey's Anatomy and House. Patient characteristics, CPR survival rates, and goals of care discussions were recorded.

Results: CPR was depicted 46 times in the 91 episodes, with a survival rate of 69.6%. Among those immediately surviving following CPR, the majority (71.9%) survived to hospital discharge and 15.6% died before discharge. Advance directive discussions only occurred for two patients, and preferences regarding code status (8.7%), intubation (6.5%) and feeding (4.3%) rarely occurred.

Conclusions: Both popular TV shows portrayed CPR as more effective than actual rates. Overall, the shows portrayed an immediate survival rate nearly twice that of actual survival rates. Inaccurate TV portrayal of CPR survival rates may misinform viewers and influence care decisions made during serious illness and at end of life.

Keywords: Advance care planning; Cardiopulmonary resuscitation; Media; Television.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Advance Care Planning / organization & administration*
  • Aged
  • Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation / mortality*
  • Female
  • Heart Arrest / mortality
  • Heart Arrest / therapy*
  • Humans
  • Information Dissemination / methods*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Survival Rate / trends
  • Television*
  • United States / epidemiology
  • Young Adult