Decision-making in cardiac arrest: physicians’ and nurses’ knowledge and views on terminating resuscitation

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Introduction: Many cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) attempts are unsuccessful and must be terminated. On the contrary, premature termination results in a self-fulfilling prophecy. This study aimed to investigate 1) physicians’ self-assessed competence in terminating CPR, 2) physicians’ and nurses’ knowledge of the European Resuscitation Council guidelines on termination, and 3) single factors leading to termination.
Methods: Questionnaires were distributed at advanced cardiac life support (ACLS) courses at a university hospital in Denmark. Participants included ACLS health care providers, ie, physicians and nurses from cardiac arrest teams, intensive care and anesthetic units or medical wards with a duty to provide ACLS. Physicians were divided into junior physicians (house officers) and experienced physicians (specialist registrars and consultants).
Results: Overall, 308 participants responded (104 physicians and 204 nurses, response rate: 98%). Among physicians, 37 (36%) did not feel competent to decide when to terminate CPR (junior physicians: n=16, 64%, compared with experienced physicians: n=21, 28%, P=0.002). Two (2%) physicians and one (0.5%) nurse were able to state the contents of termination guidelines. Several factors were reported to impact termination, including absence of a pupillary light reflex (physicians: 17%, nurses: 22%) and cardiac standstill on echocardiography (physicians: 18%, nurses: 20%). Moreover, nine (9%) physicians and 35 (17%) nurses would terminate prolonged CPR despite a shockable rhythm present.
Conclusion: One-third of all physicians did not feel competent to decide when to terminate CPR. Physicians’ and nurses’ knowledge of termination guidelines was poor, and both professions reported unvalidated or controversial factors as a single reason for terminating CPR.
Original languageDanish
JournalOpen access emergency medicine : OAEM
Pages (from-to)1-8
Number of pages8
Publication statusPublished - 20 Dec 2018

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