Experts: Medical dramas skew the reality of CPR
Doctors worry that patients will expect TV-style miracles
June 13, 1996
Web posted at: 8:00 a.m. EDT
From Correspondent Andrew Holtz
(CNN) -- Some doctors are worried that misinformation in some popular TV medical dramas could lead people to make poor decisions about medical care.
One procedure in particular, desperate cardio-pulmonary resuscitation (CPR), is a staple of such programs. But experts say there's an important difference between the TV and real-world versions of CPR.
"Survival is much lower, in the range of anywhere between zero and 30 percent at best," says Dr. James Tulsky of the Durham (North Carolina) Veterans Affairs Medical Center.
For a report in the New England Journal of Medicine, researchers at the Durham facility reviewed nearly 100 episodes of the series "ER," "Chicago Hope" and "Rescue 911." They found that on television, the survival rates for CPR range from 66 to 75 percent.
The researchers' concern is that patients or families will demand CPR, expecting miraculous rescues "as seen on TV." And that would be no problem if failure meant only death.
But there are serious risks to CPR, Tulsky says. One of those risks, never depicted on the dramas, is brain damage.
The producers of "ER" declined to be interviewed by CNN for this report, but in the New England Journal of Medicine, one of the show's medical advisers defended its scripts.
"If we were to re-enact a minute-by-minute account of actual events in the emergency department, we would not have 35 million viewers each week," Dr. Neal Baer wrote.
Baer suggested that television was not to blame for patients making bad choices.
"Physicians need to make a concerted effort to discuss this difficult topic openly with all their patients," he wrote.
Tulsky agrees that doctors must acknowledge TV-inspired illusions about CPR, and must educate their patients "about the differences in reality from TV."
They must make those efforts, he said, because the prime-time dramas are unlikely to start creating truly realistic programs.
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