Background Low-risk chest pain is a common cause of hospital admission; however, to our knowledge, there are no guidelines regarding the appropriate use of stress testing in such cases.
Methods We performed a retrospective cohort study of patients 21 years and older who were admitted to our tertiary care center with chest pain in 2007 and 2008. Using electronic records and chart review, we sought (1) to identify differences in the use of stress testing based on patient demographics and comorbidities, pretest probability of coronary artery disease, and house staff coverage and (2) to describe the results of stress testing and patient outcomes, including revascularization procedures and 30-day readmissions for myocardial infarction.
Results Of 2107 patients, 1474 (69.9%) underwent stress tests, and the results were abnormal in 184 patients (12.5%). Within 30 days, 22 patients (11.6%) with abnormal test results underwent cardiac catheterization, 9 (4.7%) underwent revascularization, and 2 (1.1%) were readmitted for myocardial infarction. In a multivariable model, stress test ordering was positively associated with age younger than 70 years (RR [relative risk], 1.12; 95% CI, 1.02-1.23), private insurance (vs Medicare/Medicaid: RR, 1.19; 95% CI, 1.11-1.27), and no house staff coverage (RR, 1.39; 95% CI, 1.28-1.50). Of patients with low (<10%) pretest probability, 68.0% underwent stress testing, but only 4.5% of these had abnormal test results.
Conclusions Most patients who are admitted with low-risk chest pain undergo stress testing, regardless of pretest probability, but abnormal test results are uncommon and rarely acted on. Ordering stress tests based on pretest probability could improve efficiency without endangering patients.