Without evidence of benefit, an intervention should not be presumed to be beneficial or safe.

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Variation in Survival After Out-of-Hospital Cardiac Arrest Between Emergency Medical Services Agencies – Part I


This is a look at the data from the paper I wrote about in Are We Killing Patients With Parochialism?

What differences can we see among the EMS agencies being studied?


The best half of EMS agencies are producing twice as many good outcomes as the worse half of EMS agencies.[1]

Most of us are bad at resuscitation and those of us treating the most cardiac arrests are doing the least good.

Why do so many of us refuse to improve our standards?

What is so much more important than patient outcomes?

Let’s start with Figure 2 C How is survival to the emergency department distributed among EMS agencies?


ROSC to the ED (Emergency Department) looks great. The results are skewed to the right, which is what we want to see in outcomes. Unfortunately, this is not an outcome that is important. Yes, you do need to have ROSC (Return Of Spontaneous Circulation) to survive, but it is important that we not cause irreversible harm in order to get very reversible ROSC.

How reversible is ROSC?


Those distributions are similar, although they are decreased by more than half. If leaving the hospital with a pulse were the outcome that mattered, it might not be so bad.

But these are not on the same scale. The ROSC to the ED figure continues to 46%, with a greater than symbol to indicate that some will do better, while the survival to discharge figure stops at 20%, with the same greater than symbol to indicate that there are some beyond that number. How many beyond the end of the figure? The authors decided that it was not enough to waste space on, because they cut it off there.

Where would the survival to discharge percentages be on the ROSC to the ED figure?


The arrow on the right is where the 46>% bar from the ROSC to the ED figure.

It is important to put these percentages in perspective, which means looking at the differences in the numbers at the bottom.

Now we need to look at the percentage surviving with enough brain function to be able to take care of themselves – those probably not going to a nursing home. This is the group everyone wants to be in. Figure 2 B.


The percentages of patients able to care from themselves looks a lot different from the previous figures. The results are skewed to the left, which is not what we want to see. Skewed to the left means that the outcomes are mostly on the lower end of the scale – the bad end.

The percentages on the bottom of the figure have not been changed (from those used for survival to discharge), but the results have worsened (been skewed to the left).


Compared with the first image, this is a very different outcome. We should admit that ROSC to the ED and survival with the ability to take care of ourselves are very poorly correlated.

We need to stop focusing on the harmful distraction that is ROSC.

Most people consider healthy brain function to be important. There are people who insist that we give too much attention to the chemistry of brain function, as if changing a person’s brain does not change a person’s behavior. When our brain chemistry changes, we change. Similarly, when our brains are damaged, as often happens during resuscitation, the part of us that makes us the people that we are is damaged. We do not think with our hearts, nor with our guts, no matter what metaphors some of us like to use.

We are not good at resuscitating the part of the patient that matters the most to the patient.

We are not good at producing the outcome that matters the most to the patient.

We appear to be best at focusing on what matters the least.

If we could get the half of the EMS agencies that are not effective at producing survival with good neurological function to improve their patient care, that would result in a big increase in outcomes that matter to patients.

It is important that we not cause irreversible harm in order to get very reversible ROSC.

Also to be posted on ResearchBlogging.org when they relaunch the site.

In Part II I will look at the potentially significant differences between EMS agencies with good outcomes and EMS agencies with bad outcomes.


[1] Variation in Survival After Out-of-Hospital Cardiac Arrest Between Emergency Medical Services Agencies.
Okubo M, Schmicker RH, Wallace DJ, Idris AH, Nichol G, Austin MA, Grunau B, Wittwer LK, Richmond N, Morrison LJ, Kurz MC, Cheskes S, Kudenchuk PJ, Zive DM, Aufderheide TP, Wang HE, Herren H, Vaillancourt C, Davis DP, Vilke GM, Scheuermeyer FX, Weisfeldt ML, Elmer J, Colella R, Callaway CW; Resuscitation Outcomes Consortium Investigators.
JAMA Cardiol. 2018 Sep 26. doi: 10.1001/jamacardio.2018.3037. [Epub ahead of print]
PMID: 30267053

Free Full Text from JAMA Cardiology