What Are ACLS Algorithms?

An algorithm, in a general sense, is a set of specific instructions that moves something from a known beginning to a known end-state. Some have used the term “branching logic” to describe algorithms.

In the medical application, treatment algorithms spell out methods for treating general clinical problems. In the Advanced Cardiovascular Life Support (ACLS) or Pediatric Advanced Life Support (PALS) courses, AHA ACLS algorithms are educational tools that can assist with learning large volumes of information.

For example, an ACLS tachycardia algorithm would be used to help clinicians learn how to treat a patient suffering from an abnormally rapid heartbeat.

There are a number of different ACLS algorithms the American Heart Associate has developed. Examples of general topics covered by AHA ACLS algorithms 2013 include:

  • treating cardiac asystole
  • treating ventricular fibrillation
  • treating bradycardia
  • treating tachycardia
  • treating pulseless electrical activity
  • special resuscitation situations
  • ethical considerations of resuscitation, etc.

Some practitioners mistakenly believe that these educational tools are actually treatment mandates or protocols. They are not.  An ACLS algorithm is meant only to be used as a learning assistance tool.