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The Importance of CPR Education: Addressing Concerns Surrounding Rescuing Women

Updated: May 31, 2023

CPR can be the difference between life and death
CPR can be the difference between life and death

Performing CPR on women during emergencies is a crucial skill that can save lives. However, recent research reveals that women are less likely to receive CPR from bystanders. The reluctance to provide assistance stems from concerns about potential accusations of sexual assault or causing harm. Experts emphasize that understanding these apprehensions is the first step towards dispelling them.

The findings are based on a survey conducted among 520 men and women. Participants were asked to rank various reasons why someone might hesitate to administer bystander CPR to a woman, taking into account the gender of the rescuer. The survey built upon previous research where respondents used their own words to describe potential hesitations in providing lifesaving care to strangers.

By categorizing the open-ended responses into themes, the survey uncovered common concerns. Both men and women identified the fear of being accused of sexual assault or inappropriate touching as the primary reason why male rescuers might refrain from giving CPR to a woman. On the other hand, the major concern for female rescuers was the fear of inadvertently harming the victim. Additionally, respondents mentioned misconceptions that male or female rescuers might hold, such as believing that women are less prone to cardiac arrests or assuming that a woman is being overdramatic.

Presented at the American Heart Association's virtual Resuscitation Science Symposium, the research is considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal. Shelby Shelton, a professional research assistant at the University of Colorado Department of Emergency Medicine and one of the investigators, hopes that this information will help eliminate biases in CPR administration.

Every year, more than 350,000 sudden cardiac arrests occur outside hospitals, with approximately 19% occurring in public settings. Immediate bystander CPR can double or triple a person's chances of survival. Unfortunately, women are less likely to receive such assistance. A study published in Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes in 2018 found that only 39% of women received bystander CPR, compared to 45% of men. Consequently, men had 23% higher odds of survival than women.

"Everyone deserves to get CPR and a chance at a great outcome when they collapse in public," emphasized Shelton. "We want to encourage strong public education around that core message."

The study also revealed a surprising similarity in perceptions between men and women regarding the deterrents to providing CPR. Dr. Sarah Perman, the study's senior investigator and an emergency physician, noted that participants were asked about how they perceived others might feel when administering CPR to a woman, removing any reluctance to answer honestly.

Dr. Ashish Panchal, a professor of emergency medicine at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, who was not involved in the study, suggested that framing the question in this manner could unveil hidden fears and provide valuable insights for training purposes. He emphasized the importance of combating the misconception that bystander CPR could cause harm, as the probability of injury is extremely low.

Similarly, Perman stressed the need to assure people that it is acceptable to touch a woman they don't know when providing life-saving assistance. "A woman at the gym or the grocery store who is in medical distress is clearly a scenario that warrants public assistance," she said.

Furthermore, the data obtained from this study could prove beneficial in training 911 dispatchers. By understanding the fears people may have, dispatchers can help dispel those concerns while guiding individuals over the phone on the necessary steps to perform CPR in real-time.

Efforts to address these concerns and promote CPR education are vital to ensure that all individuals, regardless of gender, receive timely and effective life-saving assistance in emergency situations.

Source: Learn, Enjoy, and Save Life. Healthforce Training Center offers CPR Training and certifications such as Basic Life Support (BLS), Advance Cardiovascular Life Support (ACLS), Pediatric Advance Life Support (PALS), CPR AED, Pediatric First Aid CPR AED, and First Aid CPR AED.

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