You took a course in CPR, so now you feel confident—or at least hopeful—that you have the skills to help keep someone whose heart has stopped alive until EMS arrives. But do you really? That depends on whether your CPR course was faulty—like most are.

Survival rates for the more than 500,000 cardiac arrests that happen in the US each year have improved over the past 10 years. But the American Heart Association (AHA) says that too many people are dying unnecessarily partly because current CPR training falls short—not just for the general public but also for health-care workers. According to the AHA, improving CPR training could “save more lives than any new scientific breakthrough” for treating cardiac arrest.

In a recently released report, the AHA set out new guidelines based on the most effective “formula for survival” determined by an international committee that meets regularly to share the latest research and determine best practices for cardiopulmonary and cerebral resuscitation. If these guidelines are implemented and adhered to, the AHA says, rates of survival after cardiac arrest could double by 2020. So, did your training adhere to these lifesaving guidelines? The AHA recommendations include…

  • Better practice and mastery. Instructors should emphasize deliberate practice (repetition of skills followed by evaluation and feedback) and overlearning (drilling important skills until mastery is achieved). Currently, mastery often is not sufficiently achieved by the end of a CPR course.
  • Spaced learning. Courses should be shorter but repeated more frequently for better long-term retention of skills. Currently, most CPR classes are full one- to two-day courses with refresher courses suggested only every few years, a format that tends to result in skills lasting only short-term.
  • Contextual learning. Instructors should structure courses in ways that provide real-world context based on how students are likely to encounter patients or heart attack victims in real-life situations. Example: Instructors should incorporate just enough stress into the training to give students a more accurate feel for what it’s like to perform CPR when someone’s life is at risk—but not so much stress as to overwhelm the student to the point of interfering with his or her ability to learn CPR skills.
  • Innovative teaching strategies. CPR instructors should take advantage of the full range of teaching strategies that are available. Blogs and podcasts can provide information that may be more up to date than textbooks. “Gamified” learning can make training more engaging (and memorable). Social media can make gathering and disseminating information easier and more immediate.
  • Faculty development: CPR instructors themselves should receive continuous training and development to stay on top of trends.

Learning CPR does save lives—maybe the life of a loved one. If you haven’t already learned this skill, or if you’re due for a refresher course, make sure that you’re getting the best training. Ask your potential instructors whether they’ll be following the new guidelines.