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N Engl J Med. 1991 Nov 14;325(20):1393-8.

Unsuccessful emergency medical resuscitation--are continued efforts in the emergency department justified?

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Division of Cardiology, Rhode Island Hospital, Providence 02903.



The majority of attempts to resuscitate victims of prehospital cardiopulmonary arrest are unsuccessful, and patients are frequently transported to the emergency department for further resuscitation efforts. We evaluated the efficacy and costs of continued hospital resuscitation for patients in whom resuscitation efforts outside the hospital have failed.


We reviewed the records of 185 patients presenting to our emergency department after an initially unsuccessful, but ongoing, resuscitation for a prehospital arrest (cardiac, respiratory, or both) by an emergency medical team. Prehospital and hospital characteristics of treatment for the arrest were identified, and the patients' outcomes in the emergency room were ascertained. The hospital course and the hospital costs for the patients who were revived were determined.


Over a 19-month period, only 16 of the 185 patients (9 percent) were successfully resuscitated in the emergency department and admitted to the hospital. A shorter duration of prehospital resuscitation was the only characteristic of the resuscitation associated with an improved outcome in the emergency department. No patient survived until hospital discharge, and all but one were comatose throughout hospitalization. The mean stay in the hospital was 12.6 days (range, 1 to 132), with an average of 2.3 days (range, 1 to 11) in an intensive care unit. The total hospital cost for the 16 patients admitted was $180,908 (range per patient, $1,984 to $95,144).


In general, continued resuscitation efforts in the emergency department for victims of cardiopulmonary arrest in whom prehospital resuscitation has failed are not worthwhile, and they consume precious institutional and economic resources without gain.

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