In a prospective multicenter investigation of emergency room patients with acute chest pain, physicians admitted 96% of patients with acute myocardial infarction (AMI) and discharged 4%. Of 35 patients who were sent home with AMI, only 11 (31%) returned to the same hospital because of persistent symptoms. Compared with a control group of 105 randomly selected patients with AMI who were admitted from the emergency room, patients in whom AMI was missed were significantly younger, had less typical symptoms and were less likely to to have had prior AMI or angina or to have electrocardiographic evidence of ischemia or infarction not known to be old. Despite the less typical presentations of patients in whom AMI was missed, after controlling for age and sex, the short-term mortality rate was significantly higher among patients in whom AMI was missed but in whom it was detected through our follow-up procedures than in admitted AMI patients. As determined by independent reviewers, 49% of the missed AMIs could have been diagnosed through improved electrocardiographic reading skills or by admission of patients with recognized ischemic pain at rest or ischemic electrocardiographic changes not known to be old.