How to Improve Cardiac Arrest Survival Rates


EMS responders performing CPR

© william87/Dollar Photo Club

600,000 Americans

In “A Time to Act”, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) tells the story of what it’s like to have your heart stop functioning. Each year, approximately 600,000 Americans experience a cardiac arrest. In hospital settings, the survival rate is just 24%. In community settings, that rate falls to 6%. Numbers alone don’t tell the whole story, however. Most survivors of cardiac arrest aren’t neurologically devastated, but their quality-of-life will never be the same again.

Cardiac arrest is a treatable event, but too many Americans aren’t receiving the treatment that they need and deserve. In a Viewpoint article for the July 2015 edition of JAMA, Lawrence B. Beck, MD of the Department of Emergency Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia summarizes recommendations from the IOM report. Dr. Beck is joined by co-authors from the Department of Emergency Medicine at the Medical College of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, and from George Washington University.

As the authors explain, “A Time to Act” prescribes important roles not just for EMS responders and healthcare organizations, but for medical researchers, policy advocates, and the general public. Working together, these five stakeholders need to demand and achieve better reporting, broader community engagement, the discovery of new medical treatments, greater training and education, localization of best practices, and continuous quality improvement.

Leadership, transparency, and accountability are what the authors describe as “cornerstones” for this effort. The IOM report also advances eight evidence-based recommendations. These include greater data collection and dissemination, updated national accreditation standards, increased research funding, and the creation of a National Cardiac Arrest Collaborative to strengthen relationships among stakeholders. Importantly, “A Time to Act” also calls for a greater response by “laypersons” who can recognize and even treat cardiac arrest.

What’s your experience?

“Bystander CPR and bystander use of an AED significantly improve favorable functional survival from cardiac arrest,” the JAMA authors write.

As a healthcare provider, what’s your experience with the general public’s use of cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and automated external defibrillator (AED) equipment?

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