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911 Dispatch Group To Revise CPR Advice

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The National Academies of Emergency Dispatch, which provides medical instructions for 911 dispatchers in nearly 3,000 communities worldwide, launches new procedures this month to tell frantic callers to perform chest compressions only on victims of sudden cardiac arrest.

There is a fast-moving trend away from performing mouth-to-mouth resuscitation on such patients. Instead, there is a growing medical consensus that compressions should begin immediately and continue until trained rescuers arrive.

After stories appeared in USA TODAY last week on the change in standard emergency response, the dispatch organization received scores of inquiries.

As a result, it decided to expand to 38 cities what was planned to be a smaller test of the changes. The communities will make the change by upgrading their software through the Internet on March 13.

Emergency personnel find that time is lost to the reluctance of 911 callers to perform mouth-to-mouth in addition to the difficulty they have in understanding how to do it. It is easier to guide them through compressions, which keep blood flowing that was oxygenated before the heart stopped.

''In two weeks it will be available to more than 10 million people,'' says Jeff Clawson, founder of the non-profit dispatch organization. He calls the change ''one of the most important and exciting improvements to 911 emergency dispatching in the past 25 years.''

The computerized system tells dispatchers what to say to callers who wish to help. Callers who know CPR are told to perform the task as they were taught, with mouth-to-mouth. But most callers don't know CPR, and they will be told only to compress the chest.

The dispatch system still recommends mouth-to-mouth breathing for cardiac arrest caused by problems other than heart trouble. Victims of drowning, drug overdose, poisoning or trauma, as well as children who are not breathing, still need rescue breathing.

Clawson would not name the 38 cities involved in the change but says some of the nation's largest cities, urban counties and small towns are on the list.

Other communities are eager to follow. At an emergency medical conference in Dallas last month, representatives of 12 major cities said they wanted to move quickly to revise dispatch instructions.

The dispatch organization could extend the changes to its entire system in June.

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