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Assessment of emergency physicians’ performance in identifying shockable rhythm in out-of-hospital cardiac arrest: an observational simulation study


Background Emergency physicians can use a manual or an automated defibrillator to provide defibrillation of patients who had out-of-hospital cardiac arrest (OHCA). Performance of emergency physicians in identifying shockable rhythm with a manual defibrillator has been poorly explored whereas that of automated defibrillators is well known (sensitivity 0.91–1.00, specificity 0.96–0.99). We conducted this study to estimate the sensitivity/specificity and speed of shock/no-shock decision-making by prehospital emergency physicians for shockable or non-shockable rhythm, and their preference for manual versus automated defibrillation.

Methods We developed a web application that simulates a manual defibrillator ( In 2019, all (262) emergency physicians of six French emergency medical services were invited to participate in a study in which 60 ECG rhythms from real OHCA recordings were successively presented to the physicians for determination of whether they would or would not administer a shock. Time to decision was recorded. Answers were compared with a gold standard (concordant answers of three experts). We report sensitivity for shockable rhythms (decision to shock) and specificity for non-shockable rhythms (decision not to shock). Physicians were also asked whether they preferred manual or automated defibrillation.

Results Among 215 respondents, we were able to analyse results for 190 physicians. 57% of emergency physicians preferred manual defibrillation. Median (IQR) sensitivity for a shock delivery for shockable rhythm was 0.91 (0.81–1.00); median specificity for no-shock delivery for non-shockable rhythms was 0.91 (0.80–0.96). More precisely, sensitivities for shock delivery for ventricular tachycardia (VT) and coarse ventricular fibrillation (VF) were both 1.0 (1.0–1.0); sensitivity for fine VF was 0.6 (0.2–1). Specificity for not shocking a pulseless electrical activity (PEA) was 0.83 (0.72–0.86), and for asystole, specificity was 0.93 (0.86–1). Median speed of decision-making (in seconds) were: VT 2.0 (1.6–2.7), coarse VF 2.1 (1.7–2.9), asystole 2.4 (1.8–3.5), PEA 2.8 (2.0–4.2) and fine VF 2.8 (2.1–4.3).

Conclusions Global sensitivity and specificity were comparable with published automated external defibrillator studies. Shockable rhythms with the best clinical prognoses (VT and coarse VF) were very rapidly recognised with very good sensitivity. The decision-making for fine VF or asystole and PEA was less accurate.

  • theraputics
  • arrhythmias

Data availability statement

All data relevant to the study are included in the article or uploaded as supplemental information. The simulator used for this work is now freely available. It gives access to the results immediately after answering the simulations:

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