A Critical Pathway for Patients With Acute Chest Pain and Low Risk for Short-Term Adverse Cardiac Events: Role of Outpatient Stress Testing

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Study objective

We evaluate the safety and feasibility of a critical care pathway protocol in which patients with acute chest pain who are low risk for coronary artery disease and short-term adverse cardiac outcomes receive outpatient stress testing within 72 hours of an emergency department (ED) visit.


We performed an observational study of an ED-based chest pain critical pathway in an urban, community hospital in 979 consecutive patients. Patients enrolled in the protocol were observed in the ED before receiving 72-hour outpatient stress testing. The pathway was primarily analyzed for rates of death or myocardial infarction in the 6 months after ED discharge and outpatient stress testing. Secondary outcome measures included need for coronary intervention at initial stress testing and within 6 months after discharge, subsequent ED visits for chest pain, and subsequent hospitalization.


Of 871 stress-tested patients aged 40 years or older, who had low risk for coronary artery disease and short-term adverse cardiac events, and had 6-month follow-up, 18 (2%) required coronary intervention, 1 (0.1%) had a myocardial infarction within 1 month, 2 (0.2%) had a myocardial infarction within 6 months, 6 (0.7%) had normal stress test results after discharge but required cardiac catheterization within 6 months, and 5 (0.6%) returned to the ED within 6 months for ongoing chest pain. Hospital admission rates decreased significantly from 31.2% to 26.1% after initiation of the protocol (P<.001).


For patients with chest pain and low risk for short-term cardiac events, outpatient stress testing is feasible, safe, and associated with decreased hospital admission rates. With an evidence-based protocol, physicians efficiently identify patients at low risk for clinically significant coronary artery disease and short-term adverse cardiac outcomes.

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