Background: Although previous investigations have suggested that 24 hours is required to exclude acute myocardial infarction in patients who are admitted to a coronary care unit for the evaluation of acute chest pain, we hypothesized that a 12-hour period might be adequate for patients with a low probability of infarction at the time of admission.
Methods: Using a Bayesian model, we developed a strategy to identify candidates for a shorter period of observation from an analysis of a derivation set of 976 patients with acute chest pain who were admitted to three teaching and four community hospitals. In the derivation set, patients whose clinical characteristics in the emergency room predicted a low (less than or equal to 7 percent) probability of myocardial infarction had only a 0.4 percent risk of infarction if they had neither abnormal levels of cardiac enzymes nor recurrent ischemic pain during the first 12 hours of hospitalization. In an independent testing set of 2684 patients from the seven hospitals, 957 admitted patients (36 percent) were classified as candidates for this 12-hour period of observation according to a previously published multivariate algorithm. Few of these patients were actually transferred from a monitored setting at 12 hours.
Results: Of the 771 candidates for a 12-hour period of observation who did not have enzyme abnormalities or recurrent pain during the first 12 hours, 4 (0.5 percent) were subsequently found to have acute myocardial infarction, and only 3 (0.4 percent) died after primary cardiac arrests, all of which occurred three to five days after admission. Rates of other major cardiovascular complications were low in the patients who might have been transferred from the coronary care unit after 12 hours with this strategy. In patients with a higher initial risk of infarction, the standard strategy of 24-hour observation identified all but 11 of 739 acute myocardial infarctions (1 percent).
Conclusions: Emergency room clinical data can be used to identify a large subgroup of patients for whom a 12-hour period of observation is normally sufficient to exclude acute myocardial infarction. Patient-specific evaluation and treatment can then proceed without the restrictions imposed by "rule-out" protocols for myocardial infarction.