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We assessed the influence of bystander-initiated cardiopulmonary resuscitation upon outcome in 316 consecutive patients treated for out-of-hospital ventricular fibrillation. Of 109 patients who received bystander-initiated cardiopulmonary resuscitation, 47 (43%) were ultimately discharged home. Of 207 patients for whom resuscitation was delayed until arrival of fire department personnel, 43 (21%) survived (P < 0.001). Improved survival was largely due to a reduction in subsequent hospital mortality rather than to a higher rate of initially effective resuscitation. In a separate analysis of 118 patients treated at a single institution after resuscitation, the reduced hospital mortality reflected a decrease in deaths due to shock and to anoxic encephalopathy. In addition, neurologic dysfunction was significantly less common if bystanders had initiated cardiopulmonary resuscitation. Bystander participation in cardiopulmonary resuscitation represents an important adjunct to a rapid-response emergency care system.