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Understanding and improving low bystander CPR rates: a systematic review of the literature

  • Christian Vaillancourt (a1) (a2), Ian G. Stiell (a1) (a2) and George A. Wells (a1) (a3)

Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) is a crucial yet weak link in the chain of survival for out-of-hospital cardiac arrest. We sought to understand the determinants of bystander CPR and the factors associated with successful training.


For this systematic review, we searched 11 electronic databases, 1 trial registry and 9 scientific websites. We performed hand searches and contacted 6 content experts. We reviewed without restriction all communications pertaining to who should learn CPR, what should be taught, when to repeat training, where to give CPR instructions and why people lack the motivation to learn and perform CPR. We used standardized forms to review papers for inclusion, quality and data extraction. We grouped publications by category and classified recommendations using a standardized classification system that was based on level of evidence.


We reviewed 2409 articles and selected 411 for complete evaluation. We included 252 of the 411 papers in this systematic review. Differences in their study design precluded a meta-analysis. We classified 22 recommendations; those with the highest scores were 1) 9-1-1 dispatch-assisted CPR instructions, 2) teaching CPR to family members of cardiac patients, 3) Braslow's self-training video, 4) maximizing time spent using manikins and 5) teaching the concepts of ambiguity and diffusion of responsibility. Recommendations not supported by evidence include mass training events, pulse taking prior to CPR by laymen and CPR using chest compressions alone.


We evaluated and classified the potential impact of interventions that have been proposed to improve bystander CPR rates. Our results may help communities design interventions to improve their bystander CPR rates.

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Corresponding author
The Ottawa Hospital, Civic Campus, Clinical Epidemiology Unit, Rm. F658, 1053 Carling Ave, Ottawa ON K1Y 4E9;
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Canadian Journal of Emergency Medicine
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