Most adults are unprepared or lack confidence to help if a medical emergency occurs, according to a new public poll from the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP). And, that confidence wanes as medical emergencies become more serious.

“Anyone can become a first responder in an emergency,” said William Jaquis, MD, FACEP, president of ACEP. “The first person on the scene of a medical emergency is rarely a medical professional and there are few basic skills that anyone can learn that could save a life, or significantly improve the chances of survival, while waiting for professionals to arrive.”

Unfortunately, a medical emergency can happen at any time, and how people respond until help arrives can make the difference between life and death. The majority of poll respondents said they are not confident in their ability to offer assistance in the following scenarios:

  • There is a mass shooting (68 percent);
  • Someone has been shot (62 percent);
  • Someone nearby stops breathing (52 percent); or,
  • Someone has severe bleeding (50 percent).

While 80 percent of adults are prepared to effectively communicate with 911 operators, adults report feeling unprepared to provide more “hands-on” assistance while they wait for emergency medical response. Less than half of respondents reported feeling prepared to apply a tourniquet or move an endangered victim to safety, while only one in four are prepared to use an automated external defibrillator in case of cardiac emergencies.

The primary reasons adults report they would hesitate to intervene in a medical emergency are because they do not have any medical training and they feared they would make the situation worse.

Emergency physicians are taking steps to educate and empower people in communities nationwide to confidently be the help until help arrives. ACEP developed Until Help Arrives, a free, one-hour training course for anyone to learn basic lifesaving skills, like controlling severe bleeding and performing hands-only CPR.

In fact, 90 percent said they would be more likely to intervene in an emergency situation if they had taken the Until Help Arrives course and more than eight in 10 adults polled said they would feel safer in their home, school, office or other public places knowing that somebody certified in the Until Help Arrives program is nearby.

Currently in a pilot phase, Until Help Arrives will be available in English or Spanish. Safety kits will be available for purchase by physicians who want to teach the course and for citizens to store in easily accessible locations such as the house, office or trunk of a car.

Emergency physicians interested in becoming course instructors and anyone interested in signing up for a class can find more information at:  

View an infographic about the poll here

View the full poll results here.

Morning Consult conducted the poll on behalf of ACEP from October 7-8, 2019 among a national sample of 2201 adults. The results from the full survey have a margin of error of plus or minus 2 percentage points.

About ACEP

The American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP) is the national medical society representing emergency medicine. Through continuing education, research, public education and advocacy, ACEP advances emergency care on behalf of its 40,000 emergency physician members, and the more than 150 million Americans they treat on an annual basis. For more information, visit