Background: There are major differences in the organization of the health care systems in Canada and the United States. We hypothesized that these differences may be accompanied by differences in patient care.
Methods: To test our hypothesis, we compared the treatment patterns for patients with acute myocardial infarction in 19 Canadian and 93 United States hospitals participating in the Survival and Ventricular Enlargement (SAVE) study, which tested the effectiveness of captopril in this population of patients after a myocardial infarction.
Results: In Canada, 51 percent of the patients admitted to a participating coronary care unit had acute myocardial infarctions, as compared with only 35 percent in the United States (P < 0.001). Despite the similar clinical characteristics of the 1573 U.S. patients and 658 Canadian patients participating in the study, coronary arteriography was more commonly performed in the United States than in Canada (in 68 percent vs. 35 percent, P < 0.001), as were revascularization procedures before randomization (31 percent vs. 12 percent, P < 0.001). During an average follow-up of 42 months, these procedures were also performed more commonly in the United States than in Canada. These differences were not associated with any apparent difference in mortality (22 percent in Canada and 23 percent in the United States) or rate of reinfarction (14 percent in Canada and 13 percent in the United States), but there was a higher incidence of activity-limiting angina in Canada than in the United States (33 percent vs. 27 percent, P < 0.007).
Conclusions: The threshold for the admission of patients to a coronary care unit or for the use of invasive diagnostic and therapeutic interventions in the early and late periods after an infarction is higher in Canada than in the United States. This is not associated with any apparent difference in the rate of reinfarction or survival, but is associated with a higher frequency of activity-limiting angina.