Physician Discretion Is Safe and May Lower Stress Test Utilization in Emergency Department Chest Pain Unit Patients

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Chest pain unit (CPU) observation with defined stress utilization protocols is a common management option for low-risk emergency department patients. We sought to evaluate the safety of a joint emergency medicine and cardiology staffed CPU.


Prospective observational trial of consecutive patients admitted to an emergency department CPU was conducted. A standard 6-hour observation protocol was followed by cardiology consultation and stress utilization largely at their discretion. Included patients were at low/intermediate risk by the American Heart Association, had nondiagnostic electrocardiograms, and a normal initial troponin. Excluded patients were those with an acute comorbidity, age >75, and a history of coronary artery disease, or had a coexistent problem restricting 24-hour observation. Primary outcome was 30-day major adverse cardiovascular events—defined as death, nonfatal acute myocardial infarction, revascularization, or out-of-hospital cardiac arrest.


A total of 1063 patients were enrolled over 8 months. The mean age of the patients was 52.8 ± 11.8 years, and 51% (95% confidence interval [CI], 48–54) were female. The mean thrombolysis in myocardial infarction and Diamond & Forrester scores were 0.6% (95% CI, 0.51–0.62) and 33% (95% CI, 31–35), respectively. In all, 51% (95% CI, 48–54) received stress testing (52% nuclear stress, 39% stress echocardiogram, 5% exercise, 4% other). In all, 0.9% patients (n = 10, 95% CI, 0.4–1.5) were diagnosed with a non-ST elevation myocardial infarction and 2.2% (n = 23, 95% CI, 1.3–3) with acute coronary syndrome. There was 1 (95% CI, 0%–0.3%) case of a 30-day major adverse cardiovascular events. The 51% stress test utilization rate was less than the range reported in previous CPU studies (P < 0.05).


Joint emergency medicine and cardiology management of patients within a CPU protocol is safe, efficacious, and may safely reduce stress testing rates.

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