A critical pathway for management of patients with acute chest pain who are at low risk for myocardial ischemia: recommendations and potential impact

Ann Intern Med. 1997 Dec 1;127(11):996-1005. doi: 10.7326/0003-4819-127-11-199712010-00009.


Background: Use of resources for patients with acute chest pain may be improved with clinical strategies that integrate research, Bayesian analysis, and expert opinion.

Objectives: To 1) develop a critical pathway for management of patients with acute chest pain who are at low risk for complications of ischemic heart disease and 2) assess the potential effects of implementation of the pathway on patient safety and resource use.

Design: Evidence-based consensus and prospective cohort study.

Setting: Urban teaching hospital.

Patients: Patients at least 30 years of age who were seen in the emergency department for chest pain and who did not have a history of trauma or abnormalities on radiologic study.

Intervention: Physician-opinion leaders defined criteria for patient inclusion in the pathway and for remaining on the pathway after 6 or 12 hours of observation. Criteria were defined for appropriateness of direct admission, direct discharge, or 6 hours of observation followed by exercise treadmill testing.

Measurements: Number of patients admitted to the hospital, number of days that patients were hospitalized, and clinical outcome.

Results: 2898 of 4585 patients (63%) were admitted to the hospital; of the 2898, 1152 (40%) were classified as potentially eligible for the pathway and 1068 (93%) had a benign clinical course during the initial observation period. The 1068 patients had a mean length of stay of 2.8 +/- 4.8 days. If 47% of these patients had been discharged after observation and exercise testing, implementation of the pathway would have reduced the number of admissions by 505 (17%) and days of hospitalization by 1407 (11%).

Conclusions: Retrospective analysis suggests that a critical pathway for patients with acute chest pain may substantially reduce resource use. Prospective study is needed to ensure increased efficiency without increased adverse outcomes.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Acute Disease
  • Bayes Theorem
  • Chest Pain / diagnosis
  • Chest Pain / etiology
  • Chest Pain / therapy*
  • Critical Pathways* / economics
  • Emergency Service, Hospital*
  • Exercise Test
  • Humans
  • Myocardial Infarction / complications
  • Prospective Studies
  • Risk Factors
  • Time Factors