Study objective: To determine the effectiveness of life support courses for health care providers on the basis of one of three outcomes: (1) patient mortality and morbidity, (2) retention of knowledge or skills, and (3) change in practice behavior.
Methods: English-language articles from 1975 to 1992 were identified through MEDLINE and ERIC searches, bibliographies of articles, and current abstracts. Studies were considered relevant if they included a study population of life support providers, an intervention of any of the identified life support courses, and assessment of at least one of the three listed outcomes. Relevant studies were selected and validity scores were assigned to them by agreement of two independent reviewers, using a structured form to assess validity. Data on setting, methods, participants, intervention, and outcomes were then abstracted and verified.
Results: Seventeen of 67 identified studies pertaining to life support courses met the inclusion criteria. (1) All three mortality and morbidity studies indicated a positive impact, with an overall odds ratio of.28 (95% confidence interval [Cl], .22 to .37). (2) No net increase in scores was found in 5 of 8 studies of retention of knowledge and in 8 of 9 studies of skills retention. Two of three studies reporting refresher activities yielded positive effects on knowledge retention. Outcomes were not significantly different between groups taught with modular or didactic techniques. (3) Studies assessing behavioral outcome were methodologically weak.
Conclusion: Among providers, retention of knowledge and skills acquired by participation in support courses is poor. However, refresher activities increase knowledge retention. Modular courses are as good as lectures for learning course material. There is evidence that use of the Advanced Trauma Life Support course has decreased mortality and morbidity. Further studies of patient outcome and provider behaviors are warranted.