2017 Study

2017 Study

SCA Awareness and Messaging Study: Creating a Culture of Action

The public's motivation to learn CPR and AED skills and to act in an emergency increases with a clear understanding of SCA and the impact these skills have on increasing survival

More than 350,000 people are affected by sudden cardiac arrest outside hospitals each year in the U.S., and most victims die, but the life-threatening condition is not on consumers’ radar, according to a baseline study conducted for the Sudden Cardiac Arrest Foundation by global strategic marketing and research firm StrataVerve in 2015.

Building on this study, the team conducted a second wave of research in 2017.

We hypothesized that:

  • A key factor in low SCA survival is public confusion and unfamiliarity with SCA.
  • A uniform, layperson-friendly definition of SCA could increase the perceived importance of skills training and the likelihood to act in sudden cardiac emergencies.
  • Determining messages that motivate action could help reveal an effective communications strategy.

The study was designed to:

  1. Explore shifts in aided and unaided awareness and understanding of SCA compared with our 2015 study
  2. Test a consumer-friendly definition of SCA and measure its impact on the likelihood to learn CPR/AED use and the likelihood to act in emergencies
  3. Develop and test messages to determine those most likely to motivate, grab attention and drive action.

Our quantitative/qualitative study included an online survey of a representative national sample of adults (n=2,232) and in-depth interviews among people from 10 states (n=20). Online respondents were exposed to core questions, and then split into two matched panels. One panel was exposed to a layperson-friendly definition of SCA (n=1,128); the other was exposed to 11 discrete messages, including some identified by the National Cardiac Arrest Collaborative communications task force (n=1,104). Questions pre- and post-exposure to a layperson-friendly definition of SCA measured lift in importance to learn skills and likelihood to give CPR and use an AED. Messages were tested on relative strength in motivating action and grabbing attention.

We found that the public remains confused about SCA. Barriers to intervention include:

  • Concern for hurting victim (42%)
  • Lack of confidence (40%)
  • Belief another is more competent (34%)
  • Liability concerns (34%).

Of note, 20% of respondents indicated no barriers.

We also found that a friendly definition of SCA increases the belief that learning CPR and AED skills is “extremely important.” Those “very likely” to give CPR jumped by 26% and those very likely to use an AED jumped by 38%. Further, including “sudden” in the definition proved to be important since it conveys urgency.

Two messages lead in driving motivation to act and grabbing attention:

  1. “You can double or triple a person’s chance of survival from SCA by immediately giving CPR.” 
  2. “You may save the life of someone you love by giving CPR, as most sudden cardiac arrests happen at home.”

We concluded:

  1. SCA is still not on consumers’ radar. After reading a layperson-friendly definition of SCA, however, the likelihood of giving CPR and applying an AED increases dramatically. Including “sudden” in the definition signals urgency and breadth.
  2. The blurring of heart attack and SCA may be contributing to unintentional consumer apathy with deadly consequences.
  3. The SCA awareness and understanding gap extends even to those who have received CPR training as to when to use it and why.
  4. The message “You can double or triple a person’s chance of survival from SCA by immediately giving CPR” resonates most effectively with the public. The second most effective message is: “You may save the life of someone you love by giving CPR, as most sudden cardiac arrests happen at home.” Effective supporting points include: The dispatcher as coach builds confidence and reassures the potential rescuer; "You cannot hurt a victim, you can only help” dispels a common myth; “Don’t wait for help to arrive…every second counts” drives urgency.

Based on these conclusions, we recommend:

  1. Creating a uniform definition of SCA in layperson-friendly language and using it consistently across organizations
  2. Emphasizing the definition of SCA in CPR classes and in media outreach
  3. Educating the public and the media about the fact that sudden cardiac arrest and heart attack are not the same things, contrasting differences in presentation, urgency and treatment
  4. Creating public awareness communications strategies that use tested educational messages that resonate with the general public.

* Tested definition of SCA: Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA) is a life-threatening emergency that occurs when the heart unexpectedly stops beating. It strikes seemingly healthy people of all ages, even children and teens. When SCA happens, the person collapses, becomes unresponsive, and is not breathing normally. The person may appear to be gasping, snoring or having a seizure. SCA leads to death within minutes if the person does not receive immediate help. Survival depends of the quick actions of people nearby to call 911, start CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation), and if available, use as AED (automated external defibrillator) as soon as possible.

Post-study explanation modified for 8th grade reading level: Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA) is a life-threatening emergency that occurs when the heart suddenly stops beating. It strikes people of all ages who may seem to be healthy, even children and teens. When SCA happens, the person collapses and doesn’t respond or breathe normally. They may gasp or shake as if having a seizure. SCA leads to death in minutes if the person does not get help right away. Survival depends on people nearby calling 911, starting CPR¹, and using an AED² (if available) as soon as possible.

¹ CPR: Cardiopulmonary resuscitation is when you push hard and fast on the center of chest to make the heart pump; compressions may be given with or without rescue breaths.
² AED: Automated external defibrillator is a device that analyzes the heart and if it detects a problem may deliver a shock to restart the heart’s normal rhythm.

In-Depth Interviews

As part of this study, in-depth interviews were conducted in Orlando, FL among 20 respondents, ages 21-60 from 10 states. These inteviews provide some glimpses into public awareness about sudden cardiac arrest.


Interviews conducted for the Sudden Cardiac Arrest Foundation by StrataVerve in November 2017 were used as part of the Call-Push-Shock. campaign, conducted in collaboration with Parent Heart Watch, and launched in June 2018.

Acknowledgments: The Sudden Cardiac Arrest Foundation thanks the following for their invaluable contributions to this landmark research: Principal: StrataVerve; Contributing Partners: Survey Sampling International, Strategic Artifex, Dan Beckmann, Buddy CPR, Verocity Creative Communications, and Just Do Something…Anything.

Mission & Vision

The mission of the Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA) Foundation is to prevent death and disability from sudden cardiac arrest. The vision of the SCA Foundation is to increase awareness about sudden cardiac arrest and influence attitudinal and behavioral changes that will reduce mortality and morbidity from SCA.

SCA Newsletter

Sign Up with the SCA Foundation News in order to stay informed! (* required field)

Contact Us

The Sudden Cardiac Arrest Foundation would like to hear from you! If you have questions or comments — Contact Us!


Sudden Cardiac Arrest Foundation
7500 Brooktree Road, Suite 207
Wexford, PA 15090

Copyright © 2018 Sudden Cardiac Arrest Foundation. All Rights Reserved.

Web Design & Development, & Web Hosting By FastWebEngine