Prehospital initiation of thrombolytic therapy by paramedics, if both feasible and safe, could considerably reduce the time to treatment and possibly decrease the extent of myocardial necrosis in patients with acute coronary thrombosis. Preliminary to a trial of such a treatment strategy, paramedics evaluated the characteristics of 2,472 patients with chest pain of presumed cardiac origin; 677 (27%) had suitable clinical findings consistent with possible acute myocardial infarction and no apparent risk of complication for potential thrombolytic drug treatment. Electrocardiograms (ECGs) of 522 of the 677 patients were transmitted by cellular telephone to a base station physician; 107 (21%) of the tracings showed evidence of ST segment elevation. Of the total 2,472 patients, 453 developed evidence of acute myocardial infarction in the hospital; 163 (36%) of the 453 had met the strict prehospital screening history and examination criteria and 105 (23.9%) showed ST elevation on the ECG and, thus, would have been suitable candidates for prehospital thrombolytic treatment if it had been available. The average time from the onset of chest pain to prehospital diagnosis was 72 +/- 52 min (median 52); this was 73 +/- 44 min (median 62) earlier than the time when thrombolytic treatment was later started in the hospital. Paramedic selection of appropriate patients for potential prehospital initiation of thrombolytic treatment is feasible with use of a directed checklist and cellular-transmitted ECG and saves time. This strategy may reduce the extent and complications of infarction compared with results that can be achieved in a hospital setting.