Commence, continue, withhold or terminate?: a systematic review of decision-making in out-of-hospital cardiac arrest

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When faced with an out-of-hospital cardiac arrest patient, prehospital and emergency resuscitation providers have to decide when to commence, continue, withhold or terminate resuscitation efforts. Such decisions may be made difficult by incomplete information, clinical, resourcing or scene challenges and ethical dilemmas. This systematic integrative review identifies all research papers examining resuscitation providers’ perspectives on resuscitation decision-making for out-of-hospital cardiac arrest patients. A total of 14 studies fulfilled the inclusion criteria: nine quantitative, four qualitative and one mixed-methods design. Five themes were identified, describing factors informing resuscitation provider decision-making: the arrest event; patient characteristics; the resuscitation scene; resuscitation provider perspectives; and medicolegal concerns. Established prognostic factors are generally considered important, but there is a lack of resuscitation provider consensus on other factors, indicating that decision-making is influenced by the perspective of resuscitation providers themselves. Resuscitation decision-making research typically draws conclusions from evaluation of cardiac arrest registry data or clinical notes, but these may not capture all salient factors. Future research should explore resuscitation provider perspectives to better understand these important decisions and the clinical, ethical, emotional and cognitive demands placed on resuscitation providers.

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