Background: Because of extremely poor outcomes, the practice of continuing cardiopulmonary resuscitation in hospital emergency departments after unsuccessful out-of-hospital cardiopulmonary resuscitation has been strongly questioned. Before revising our institutional guidelines according to previous pessimistic reports we wished to review our own experience with this practice.
Methods: The case histories of 141 consecutive victims of witnessed cardiac arrest brought to the emergency department with ongoing cardiopulmonary resuscitation were reviewed. The emergency medical system was two-tiered and was based on the emergency department of a single university hospital. The first tier, staffed with emergency medical technicians, provided only basic cardiac life support. The second, physician-staffed tier provided advanced cardiac life support and was allowed to terminate resuscitation in the field. Rates of successful resuscitation, survival to discharge and after 1 year, and the cerebral performance of resuscitated and surviving patients were determined.
Results: Ninety-one patients (65%) died in the emergency department; 50 (35%) were resuscitated and admitted. Thirty-two patients (23%) died in the hospital, 18 (13%; 95% confidence interval, 8% to 20%) survived to discharge. Sixteen survivors showed no or only mild neurologic impairment at discharge. Seventeen patients were alive 1 year later. Bystander resuscitation, short intervals to initiation of resuscitation, and ventricular fibrillation at emergency department entry were significantly associated with survival.
Conclusions: Institutional guidelines for the decision whether to continue resuscitation after failed out-of-hospital efforts should be based on an analysis of the characteristics and results of the local emergency medical system. Continuing efforts in the hospital may not be inevitably futile.