Hospital medical records staff enter diagnostic codes on charts using the International Classification of Diseases (Clinically Modified), Ninth Revision (ICD-9-CM). In a downtown Toronto tertiary hospital, 209 consecutive charts coded for acute myocardial infarction as the primary diagnosis in 1987-88 were reviewed. Criteria for documentation of acute myocardial infarction included symptomatic, electrocardiographic and enzymatic elements. Forty-three (21%) false-positives, ie, charts coded acute myocardial infarction where criteria were not fulfilled, were found (95% confidence interval 15 to 26%). Physician diagnosis of acute myocardial infarction appeared on the face sheet of 30 of the false-positive cases. Common reasons for false-positive face sheet entries and chart coding were acute myocardial infarction within the previous eight weeks with transfer or readmission for coronary angiography and other procedures; and presumed acute myocardial infarction on admission subsequently unproven or disproved. The false-positive proportion was similar to a Canadian study drawing on charts from hospitals of various sizes in 1977, lower than in recent reports from various American tertiary teaching hospitals (P less than 0.0001), and higher than in five Boston area community hospitals (P = 0.0005) where procedure-related transfers or readmissions of previous acute myocardial infarction patients were less likely. This audit lends credence to arguments that changes are needed in ICD-9-CM codes for acute myocardial infarction and in the assignation of reasons for hospitalization.