Critical pathways for patients with acute chest pain at low risk.
Critical pathways are predefined protocols that define the crucial steps in evaluating and treating a clinical problem to improve quality of patient care, reduce variability and enhance efficiency. Critical pathways have proliferated for a variety of diagnoses, including evaluation of patients with chest pain, a common and costly complaint. This review will outline the development, implementation, and assessment of critical pathways using as a paradigm our experience with a pathway for patients presenting to the Emergency Department with acute chest pain who are at low risk of myocardial ischemia. The goals of the pathway were to expedite evaluation of low-risk patients and reduce admission rates among these patients and in the cohort overall without compromising outcomes. The pathway was developed by a multidisciplinary team in an iterative process that considered published literature, as well as the experience and consensus of local opinion leaders. Patients at least 30 years old presenting to the Emergency Department of an urban teaching hospital who were pain-free without heart failure or ischemic changes on EKG, but who were not considered appropriate for discharge by the treating physician, were eligible for the critical pathway. The pathway involved one set of creatine kinase-MB enzymes drawn at least 4 hours after pain, a 6 hour observation period after the last episode of pain and exercise testing. Outcomes during evaluation and admission rates were assessed. Clinical outcomes at 7 days and 6 months after evaluation and patient satisfaction at 7 days were also measured. Of 1363 patient visits, 145 (10.6%) were triaged by the pathway: 131 (90.3%) were discharged, 14 (9.7%) were admitted. The overall admission rate decreased from 63% (2898/4595) to 60% (819/1363) [p < 0.05] in comparison to a cohort studied prior to pathway implementation. Pathway patients reported low rates of subsequent cardiac procedures. No deaths or myocardial infarctions were recorded. At 7 days, only 2 respondents (2%) reported going to an Emergency Department since their evaluation. Most respondents (83%) rated their care as very good or excellent. Critical pathways designed to enhance efficiency, reduce variability, and improve the quality of care are becoming increasingly common. Our pathway for evaluation of patients with chest pain at low risk of myocardial ischemia was feasible and safe and was associated with a decline in absolute admission rates. Because of the possibility of concomitant secular trends and the effects of a changing medical environment, further rigorous research on the efficacy of individual pathways is needed.
Fleischmann, KE; Goldman, L; Johnson, PA; Krasuski, RA; Bohan, JS; Hartley, LH; Lee, TH
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