Each year 1.5 million patients are admitted to coronary-care units (CCUs) for suspected acute ischemic heart disease; for half of these, the diagnosis is ultimately "ruled out." In this study, conducted in the emergency rooms of six New England hospitals ranging in type from urban teaching centers to rural nonteaching hospitals, we sought to develop a diagnostic aid to help emergency room physicians reduce the number of their CCU admissions of patients without acute cardiac ischemia. From data on 2801 patients, we developed a predictive instrument for use in a hand-held programmable calculator, which requires only 20 seconds to compute a patient's probability of having acute cardiac ischemia. In a prospective trial that included 2320 patients in the six hospitals, physicians' diagnostic specificity for acute ischemia increased when the probability value determined by the instrument was made available to them. Rates of false-positive diagnosis decreased without any increase in rates of false-negative diagnosis. Among study patients with a final diagnosis of "not acute ischemia," the number of CCU admissions decreased 30 per cent, without any increase in missed diagnoses of ischemia. The proportion of CCU admissions that represented patients without acute ischemia dropped from 44 to 33 per cent. Widespread use of this predictive instrument could reduce the number of CCU admissions in this country by more than 250,000 per year.