Study: TV Depictions of CPR Skewing Public’s Understanding

By , Category : Health News

Disclaimer: Results are not guaranteed*** and may vary from person to person***.

TV DepictionsIt is well-known that television shows often exaggerate or take shortcuts when depicting science and medicine, but that doesn’t stop people from becoming misinformed. A study recently published by the University of Southern California observes how CPR is portrayed in medical dramas, and how it lines up with both the facts and what viewers understand.

The study ran from 2010 to 2011 and focused on episodes of popular TV shows House and Grey’s Anatomy. The number of CPR incidents in the television episodes was recorded, along with patient demographics and outcome. This data was then compared with real-world figures.

The results showed a large discrepancy between what shows depict and what actually occurs. On the shows, CPR worked 69.5% of the time and an overwhelming majority of patients (71.9%) survived and were discharged. Unfortunately, CPR has an actual effective rate of around 37%, and only 13% of those who necessitate CPR have long-term survival prospects. Additionally, 60% of CPR recipients are over the age of 65, while on the shows, the patients getting CPR were below this age range.

The level of accuracy on these shows was compared to a similar 1996 study, and there were few noted improvements.

These sorts of findings would normally be another example of television exaggeration were it not for one troubling fact: 42% of older adults report getting their health knowledge from TV programs. This leads to mistaken understandings of treatment methods, effectiveness, and expectations. If someone attempts to perform CPR based on what they see on television, the problem worsens.

For instance, when actors use CPR on each other, they always bend their elbows when pushing to lessen the impact on the “patient.” When CPR is properly performed, the arms are straight in order to deliver more force. If someone performs CPR similar to how it is shown on television, the odds of success will be far lower than normal.

Researchers also looked at how advanced patient care options and end-of-life counseling was handled by the shows in question. Such discussions—normally an integral part of patient care—only occurred five times across the 91 episodes reviewed.

Source for Today’s Article:
Portanova, J., et al., “It Isn’t like This on TV: Revisiting CPR Survival Rates Depicted on Popular TV Shows,” Resuscitation 2015, doi:

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About the Author, Browse Adrian's Articles

Adrian has been working in the information publishing world since 1997. But when it comes to health information, he’s a self-admitted late bloomer. A couch potato since pre-school, Adrian was raised on TV, video games and a lifestyle that led to childhood obesity that followed him well into adulthood. But when he hit his forties, he decided enough was enough. He had a family to take care of and his days of overeating, under-exercising and inactivity were going to lead... Read Full Bio »