Cardiopulmonary resuscitation on television. Miracles and misinformation

N Engl J Med. 1996 Jun 13;334(24):1578-82. doi: 10.1056/NEJM199606133342406.


Background: Responsible, shared decision making on the part of physicians and patients about the potential use of cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) requires patients who are educated about the procedure's risks and benefits. Television is an important source of information about CPR for patients. We analyzed how three popular television programs depict CPR.

Methods: We watched all the episodes of the television programs ER and Chicago Hope during the 1994-1995 viewing season and 50 consecutive episodes of Rescue 911 broadcast over a three-month period in 1995. We identified all occurrences of CPR in each episode and recorded the causes of cardiac arrest, the identifiable demographic characteristics of the patients, the underlying illnesses, and the outcomes.

Results: There were 60 occurrences of CPR in the 97 television episodes--31 on ER, 11 on Chicago Hope, and 18 on Rescue 911. In the majority of cases, cardiac arrest was caused by trauma; only 28 percent were due to primary cardiac causes. Sixty-five percent of the cardiac arrests occurred in children, teenagers, or young adults. Seventy-five percent of the patients survived the immediate arrest, and 67 percent appeared to have survived to hospital discharge.

Conclusions: The survival rates in our study are significantly higher than the most optimistic survival rates in the medical literature, and the portrayal of CPR on television may lead the viewing public to have an unrealistic impression of CPR and its chances for success. Physicians discussing the use of CPR with patients and families should be aware of the images of CPR depicted on television and the misperceptions these images may foster.

MeSH terms

  • Bias
  • Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation / mortality
  • Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation / psychology*
  • Communication
  • Decision Making
  • Humans
  • Information Dissemination*
  • Physician-Patient Relations
  • Public Opinion*
  • Survival Rate
  • Television*