Study objective: To determine whether emergency patients with acute chest pain and low suspicion of acute myocardial infarction (AMI) can be managed cost-effectively and safely in a dedicated chest pain center (CPC) that incorporates mandatory stress testing.
Methods: We assembled a prospective observational case series of consecutive adult patients transferred from the emergency department to a nine-bed, 23-hour CPC in a 564-bed community hospital from January 13 through May 31, 1994. In our institution, all emergency patients with acute nontraumatic chest pain of unclear origin, suggestive of myocardial ischemia but with a low probability of AMI, are transferred to the CPC for further evaluation. All patients in whom AMI is ruled out undergo individually appropriate cardiac diagnostic testing in accordance with CPC clinical guidelines. Patients with end-stage coronary artery disease transferred to the CPC for a "rule-out" protocol only did not undergo further diagnostic testing. Admitted and discharged patients were followed through chart review and telephone survey, respectively.
Results: Of the 502 patients transferred to the CPC, 477 (95%) completed follow-up at 14 days. Four hundred ten (86%) were discharged home. Those discharged after diagnostic evaluation yielded negative findings had 100% survival and zero diagnosis of AMI at 5-month follow-up. Overall mortality and incidence of AMI on long-term follow-up for all patients transferred to the CPC were .4% and .2%, respectively. Sixty-seven patients (13%) were admitted from the CPC, of whom 44 (66%) had a final diagnosis of ischemic heart disease (IHD) or AMI. Twenty-four patients with IHD (55%; 6% of stress-tested group) were identified only on further stress testing. Of these patients, seven underwent percutaneous transluminal coronary angioplasty or coronary artery bypass grafting during hospitalization. All were discharged home without major morbidity. Four hundred twenty-four patients (84%) underwent stress testing. The cost of mandatory stress testing to identify one patient with IHD after AMI was ruled out was $3,125. An average cost-per-case savings of 62% was achieved for each patient transferred to the CPC who would have been hospitalized before the inception of the CPC.
Conclusion: Mandatory stress testing is a safe, cost-effective, and valuable diagnostic and prognostic tool in CPC patients.