‘Ridiculous’ CPR survival rates on TV shows are misleading patients and their families

TV shows like Grey’s Anatomy maybe affecting how real-life patients make treatment decisions. If Grey’s Anatomy were reality, hospital wards would be patrolled by glamorous, young doctors perpetually nipping into the stockroom for a clandestine romantic romp.

But what if viewers were making real life-and-death choices based on these fictional storylines?

The impossibly high CPR survival rate for patients on our favourite medico shows may be affecting how patients and their families make treatment decisions, a US study suggests.

Patients who underwent CPR on Grey’s Anatomy and the equally popular House had a survival rate of almost 70 per cent, double that of real life CPR rates, according to research at the University of Southern California.

Long term survival after CPR was 50 per cent, four times that of patients in the real world, researchers found after watching 91 episodes of the hit dramas.

Emergency medicine specialist at the University of Notre Dame Associate Professor Peter Kas said real life resuscitation survival rates were as low as 6 to 7 per cent, and even 3 per cent in certain settings.

“[But] the incredible survival rates on these shows raise expectations to a point that sometimes people can’t understand why their friend or family member can’t be resuscitated,” he said.

The survival rates in movies were even more “ridiculous”, Associate Professor Kas said.

“You can resuscitate anything in a movie … anything from sheep to roosters. It’s made to look incredibly easy,” he said.

But Associate Professor Kas stressed any attempt at CPR was better than no attempt at all.

“If you can get in there and do CPR until an ambulance arrives that may be the difference between life and death,” he said.

The findings were particularly concerning considering earlier research showed TV was a major source of medical information for viewers, especially the elderly.

“Inaccurate TV portrayal of CPR survival rates may misinform viewers and influence care decision made during serious illness and at end of life,” the researchers wrote in the journal Resuscitation.

CPR can cause physical and psychological harm got some patients – and their families – especially when they face imminent death and terminal illness.

“In these cases, electing a do-not-resuscitate order may be a better order for improved quality of life,” the authors wrote.

Meanwhile, a recent survey of close to 12,000 avid doctor drama viewers found bingeing on medical dramas was a medical no-no.

“Heavy viewers of medical dramas tend to underestimate the gravity of chronic illnesses such as cancer and cardiovascular disease and undermine the importance of tackling these issues,” concluded the 2014 study published in Human Communication Research.

“Heavier viewers of medical dramas, compared to lighter viewers, also tend to take a more fatalistic perspective about cancer,” the study read.