Study Debunks Defibrillation Myths in Movies


Mgbako OU, Ha YP, Hypolite KA, et al. Defibrillation in the movies: A missed opportunity for public health education. Resuscitation. 2014;85(12):1795—1798.


The authors of this study examined 35 scenes portraying defibrillation in 32 different movies. Defibrillation was performed with the intent of resuscitation in 29 (83%) of the scenes. The heart rhythm was shown in the movie in 18 (51%) of the scenes. Of those, the patient was defibrillated incorrectly in seven (39%) when the cardiac rhythm was asystole.

Of eight movie scenes with in-hospital cardiac arrest, seven (88%) resuscitations resulted in survival. Of 12 scenes with out-of-hospital cardiac arrest resuscitations, eight (67%) resulted in survival.

Additionally, the research noted that movie defibrillation was often incorrectly portrayed by not having the patient’s clothing removed in 11 (31%) of the scenes, paddles incorrectly positioned in six (19%), failure to state “clear” in 18 (51%), and exaggerated patient body movement in 26 (74%).

The study concluded that defibrillation and cardiac arrest survival outcomes in movies are representing missed opportunities for public health education.


In each April issue of JEMS, I like to review what may appear to be “foolish research.” However, as funny as this paper may be, it does make several serious points. First, movie cardiac arrest victims have a significantly higher survival rate than real patients do. The study showed that real-life in-hospital cardiac arrest survival is reported to be about 23% while out-of-hospital survival is around 9%.

It’s very conceivable that layperson moviegoers are adopting an erroneous overestimation of the survival rate from cardiac arrest. If the public believes that survival is high, would they be less concerned with the issue?

Of the out-of-hospital cardiac arrest scenes in this paper, few had bystander CPR. Could this negatively impact layperson perception of the vital importance of bystander CPR? I believe so.

Several papers have been written on the subject of layperson perception. In the old days of CPR, which included mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, public concern over the possible transmission of infectious diseases led researchers to promote hands-only CPR.

If the public believes that all they have to do is call 9-1-1 during cardiac arrest, the survival rate will never improve.

It’s commonplace for any movie that portrays the use of animals being involved in dangerous activities to have a disclaimer in the credits that assures the viewing public that, “No animals were harmed in the making of this film.”

Perhaps there needs to be a similar disclaimer stating that, “Cardiac arrest survival is significantly less likely in the real world,” followed by the Web address for the American Heart Association and a promotion to learn CPR.


I don’t know, Doc. If it’s on television, in the movies, or on the Internet, it must be true. I mean, if there was a way to educate the public about CPR and stroke awareness through mass media, wouldn’t it be happening?

Golly, I can go on YouTube and find all kinds of cute and catchy videos about saving lives. But it must not be working or it would be on television or in movie theater previews.

Think about the commercials for various pharmaceuticals–those companies want us to know that those medicines are out there, and that they work. Why else would the companies spend so much money to get the message out to us? Maybe we could all pitch in and get a subscription for Resuscitation sent to film writers and directors. Then, they could leave them in the actors’ dressing rooms along with their scripts. I’m sure a layperson would pick this up and get lost in the science.

It’s no one’s fault that the science isn’t out there in plain view for people to read and see through whatever media they subscribe to. Filmmakers don’t know what they don’t know. They most likely don’t realize they’re influencing public awareness about CPR and AEDs.

Let’s find a new song with 100—120 bpm, and get the party started. I’m pretty sure we can afford the publicity.

No posts to display