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According to a New York Times article dated January 3, 2008, in one out of three cases of cardiac arrests in hospitals, the staff takes too long to respond and increases the risk of brain damage and death in the patient.

This study was based on 6,789 patients in 369 different hospitals whose hearts stopped but could have been resuscitated with an electric shock.

The study concludes that these delays in response may result in thousands of deaths a year. According to general guidelines, shock should be given to the patient within two minutes of the heart stopping. The study found that it took longer in 30 percent of the cases.

When the response by hospital staff was delayed past this two-minute mark, only 22.2 percent of patients survived as opposed to 39.3 percent when the shock was given on time.

The study found that this delay in response was more prominent if the patient’s heart stopped at night or on the weekend, if the patient was admitted for a non-cardiac illness, or if the patient was admitted to a hospital with fewer than 250 beds or with a limited number of heart monitor units. Black patients also had a higher risk for delayed response by hospitals.

The study’s next step is to discover how a hospital’s response time to cardiac arrests can be improved. It will look at what the hospitals that performed the best in the study did to ensure a rapid response to their patients.

One suggestion is to equip most hospital rooms with an auto-defibrillator, which senses electrical activity in the heart and automatically delivers a shock if necessary. These defibrillators are often used in airports or other public areas by lay people in case of an emergency. Nurses in the hospital could improve their response time because they would not have to wait for a doctor to deliver the electrical shock.

For more information on this subject, please refer to the section on Medical Malpractice and Negligent Care.

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