Tag Archives: communication

Learning To Speak Resuscitese


In the resus room, clarity of communication between team members is critical to patient safety and effective resuscitation. We are used to following standardised clinical algorithms for cardiac arrests and many other emergency presentations, but there is no standardisation of vocabulary or communication style. Communication failures are a major source of error in resuscitation, suggesting this is an area in which we need to improve.

Defining your lexicon

A contrast with the aviation industry was drawn by neonatologist Dr Nicole Yamada, who points out that pilots and air traffic controllers use an effective, concise, standardised set of words and phrases that are universally understood, for example ‘stand by’, ‘unable’, ‘read back’, and ‘cancel'(1).  She proposed adapting a similar resuscitation-specific lexicon modelled after aviation communication which ‘would aid in streamlining communication during time-pressured clinical situations when seconds count and errors can kill.‘(2)


Dr Yamada tested this approach in a small study of simulated neonatal resuscitation. Standardised communication techniques were associated with a trend toward decreased error rate and faster initiation of critical interventions.(3)

Avoiding the fluff

In the absence of standardised approaches to communication, humans in the resus room often choose language which indirectly acknowledges social hierarchies. For ad hoc teams, phrases may be chosen which are least likely to offend people with whom we’re unfamiliar, or may be deferential in cases of real or presumed authority and expertise gradients. The consequence of this is the use of ‘mitigating language‘. Examples might be:

“Any chance you could pop a line in?”

“Would someone mind letting me know if they can feel a pulse?”

“Do you want to have a think about setting up for intubation?”

“How about we get some bag-mask ventilation happening at some point?”

“If you could have a look at his abdomen that would be awesome”

These commands (imperatives) phrased obliquely as questions or suggestions are know as ‘whimperatives‘ and are found throughout resus room dialogue, when the team leader does not wish to convey the assumption of a power relationship over her colleagues. These whimperatives are an example of ‘mitigating speech’, which refers to language that ‘de-emphasises’ or ‘sugarcoats’ the command.

In the words of Peter Brindley:

‘The danger of mitigating language illustrates why, during medical crises, we should replace comments such as “perhaps, we need a surgeon” or “we should think about intubating” with “get me a surgeon” and “intubate the patient now.”’(4)


There’s nothing wrong with being polite and respectful, and mitigating language may be helpful in the team building phase. However the more critical the situation, the more an authorative/directive leadership style that clearly delegates critical tasks  is required(5). Standardised terminology (with closed loop communication) is likely to enhance clarity of the message and accelerate the sharing of a team mental model. Avoiding whimperatives and excessive mitigating phrases may further prevent ambiguity and imprecision, reducing the time to critical interventions.

These components of the content of resus room communication – unequivocal, standardised, and direct – should go hand in hand with the delivery of the words. Effective delivery requires optimal delivery speed and ‘command presence’. These factors will be discussed in a future post.

I’d be interested to hear what standard phrases or words you think should be in the resus-room lexicon.


1. Yamada NK, Halamek LP. Communication during resuscitation: Time for a change? Resuscitation. 2014 Dec;85(12):e191–2.

2. Yamada NK, Halamek LP. On the Need for Precise, Concise Communication during Resuscitation: A Proposed Solution. The Journal of Pediatrics. 2015 Jan;166(1):184–7.

3. Yamada NK, Fuerch JH, Halamek LP. Impact of Standardized Communication Techniques on Errors during Simulated Neonatal Resuscitation. Am J Perinatol. 2016 Mar;33(4):385–92.

4. Brindley PG, Reynolds SF. Improving verbal communication in critical care medicine. Journal of Critical Care. 2011 Apr;26(2):155–9.

5. Bristowe KK, Siassakos DD, Hambly HH, Angouri JJ, Yelland AA, Draycott TJT, et al. Teamwork for clinical emergencies: interprofessional focus group analysis and triangulation with simulation. Qual Health Res. 2012 Sep 30;22(10):1383–94.

Down with “down” time!

CPR-icon2A man in his 40s has a witnessed collapse and CPR is immediately started. Paramedics are on scene within 5 minutes and initiate advanced cardiac life support. He has refractory ventricular fibrillation which degenerates to asystole. He arrives in an emergency department where, with good ongoing CPR, he appears reasonably well perfused and even demonstrates some spontaneous movements and reactive pupils. He is placed on a mechanical CPR device and activation of the cardiac cath lab is requested. The patient has been in cardiac arrest now for 32 minutes. The cardiology fellow appears and asks: ‘what’s the down time?’

What’s the right answer? Would you say ‘half an hour’? ’32 minutes’?
And does it matter? Why is the cardiology fellow asking? Does she have an arbitrary cut off in mind, over which emergency coronary reperfusion will be denied?

I think there are several problems with conversations like these.
The first, is what does ‘down time’ even mean?
The second, is how relevant is a cardiac arrest time interval to prognosis in an individual patient?
The third, is what is the significance of any time interval in a patient who at the time of assessment has some signs that CPR is providing some perfusion and there is some evidence of brain function?

Let’s take the first. The definition of ‘down time’ does not appear to be standardised:

In this publication it appears to refer to the time before resuscitation is commenced, where it is demonstrated to be prognostically important.

Similarly, in this medical dictionary, it is defined as the ‘temporal duration from cardiac arrest until beginning cardiopulmonary resuscitation or advanced cardiac life support.

However, a post in Life in the Fast Lane defines it as ‘time to return of spontaneous circulation

This appears to agree with The New South Wales Government’s Intensive Care Monitoring and Coordination Unit who define it as ‘the time from when a person’s heart stops beating to the time it starts beating again

Yet another definition is used in King County, Washington, where it is defined as ‘the time interval from collapse to call 911‘.

So the first thing is to clarify what we’re talking about: “This patient received immediate bystander CPR. He has had resuscitation for 32 minutes”. My friend in the UK, nurse resuscitationist Fernando Candal Carballido, coined the term ‘Time of Supported Circulation‘, or TOSC. I quite like this and think it could catch on.

The next question is so what? What if it was 90 minutes? At what point do we declare futility? This is where I believe the game has changed. Multiple survivors of prolonged resuscitation are springing up in the news and in the literature. Particularly in the subgroup of patients with minimal comorbidity, early CPR, and who receive circulatory support via ECMO or mechanical CPR while they undergo coronary reperfusion.

For a great example of a prolonged CPR survivor, check out paramedic Wayne Schneider’s story,

…or listen to Steven Bernard describe amazing results from ECMO used in Melbourne in the CHEER study, which includes survivors of over two hours of CPR.

So, in summary:

  • Be clear on your definitions when communicating with colleagues. ‘Down time’ does not appear to have a standard definition, so I would avoid its use.
  • Some patients without comorbidities who have had early bystander CPR may survive despite long periods of CPR (or ‘TOSC’), provided the underlying cause can be treated or is reversible.
  • ECMO and even more widely available mechanical CPR devices are extending the period in which these causes can be addressed.

Update 2016: I now use the terms ‘No Flow Time’ (time from arrest to first basic life support) and ‘Low Flow Time’ (time receiving CPR, which stops with ROSC). This is prognostically very important, with increasing numbers of reports of survivors who have had very long periods of low flow time.