Background: Despite extensive in-hospital evaluation the cause of syncope remains unexplained in up to 40% of patients.
Aims: To determine the application and cost of diagnostic tests, cost of hospital stay, success of evaluation and prognosis of patients admitted via the emergency department after syncope.
Methods: A retrospective cohort study including all consecutive patients admitted via the emergency department for evaluation of syncope between 1 January 1994 and 31 December 1998. The findings obtained from clinical history, physical examination and diagnostic tests were reviewed systematically. The costs of specific tests and hospital stay were analysed. Patients were followed until 31 December 1998.
Results: 127 patients underwent a median of 4 diagnostic tests (interquartile range, 3 to 6) over 12 days (IQR 8 to 17). The overall median cost of syncope evaluation was 106,728 ATS/7,756 EUR (IQR 70,860 to 143,583 ATS) per patient; the cost of diagnostic tests per patient was 6,863 ATS/499 EUR (IQR 3,345 to 11,969 ATS); hospital maintenance and in-hospital care accounted for the major part of these costs [median 97,680 ATS/7,099 EUR (IQR 65,120 to 138,380 ATS)]. At the time of hospital discharge, syncope remained unexplained in 48 patients (38%). The strength of agreement between the emergency department diagnosis and the discharge diagnosis was moderate (kappa = 0.49, 95% confidence interval 0.36 to 0.61). None of the patients had recurrent syncope or died during the hospital stay. Within the first 30 days after the index event 2 patients (2%) died due to known pre-existing diseases.
Conclusion: The emergency department diagnosis markedly influenced the work-up of syncope, but not the cost of evaluation. The moderate diagnostic yield, high cost of in-hospital evaluation and good short term prognosis indicate the need for alternative strategies of in-hospital evaluation.