Not everything shown in medical dramas is 100 percent accurate. According to a new study by University of Southern California Davis School of Gerontology, cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) is shown in various medical dramas to save lives – about 70 percent of the time – the truth is much darker. Researchers claim that the actual survival rate is nearly half of what is normally believed and depicted; about 37 percent.

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About 42 percent of older adults claim that their knowledge about health and medicine comes from television. As a result, most of these individuals base healthcare preferences on inaccurate concepts, such as how to survive a heart attack.

The study discovered many interesting aspects about CPR, basically discrepancies between what is shown on television and the reality. The research team viewed episodes of famous medical shows and found 46 different depictions of CPR – defibrillation or chest compressions. They recorded whether the patients in the shows lived or died after the technique, the cause of their cardiac arrest, their backgrounds and age.

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It was seen that half of the patients receiving CPR made an adequate recovery. In reality, about 13 percent of patients actually survive in the long-term, explained senior author Susan Enguidanos, Associate Professor at the Davis School and an expert in end-of-life care. “Many people have no understanding of genuine CPR survival, making medical care decisions for their family members and themselves based on erroneous assumptions”.

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Television usually shows CPR being performed on adults between the ages of 18 and 65. However, 60 percent of CPR is performed on individuals older than 65. Moreover, television shows perform CPR on mostly trauma cases – 40 percent to be exact – while in real life instances, CPR is only performed 2 percent of the time in traumatic injuries.

Compared to a study conducted in 1996, the accuracy of CPR depictions shown on television does not seem to be improving. It may be considered as harmless entertainment, but the extensive inaccuracies shown in famous medical dramas could be life-threatening in real life. The failure to depict conversations regarding care planning and end-of-life decisions is a major problem. Out of the 91 episodes analyzed by the researchers, only five patients or families were shown discussing such issues with their doctors.

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“These findings highlight the importance for improved physician-patient communication and discussions about advanced care planning, such as CPR”, stated first author Jaclyn Portanova, Davis School, Ph.D. in Gerontology. “Without these discussions, patients will rely on misinformation from television dramas in their real-life decision-making, which can have detrimental consequences”.