Effect of Using the HEART Score in Patients With Chest Pain in the Emergency Department

From the Annals of Internal Medicine:

Background:The HEART (History, Electrocardiogram, Age, Risk factors, and initial Troponin) score is an easy-to-apply instrument to stratify patients with chest pain according to their short-term risk for major adverse cardiac events (MACEs), but its effect on daily practice is unknown.

Objective:

To measure the effect of use of the HEART score on patient outcomes and use of health care resources.

Design:

Stepped-wedge, cluster randomized trial. (ClinicalTrials.gov: NCT01756846)

Setting:

Emergency departments in 9 Dutch hospitals.

Patients:

Unselected patients with chest pain presenting at emergency departments in 2013 and 2014.

Intervention:

All hospitals started with usual care. Every 6 weeks, 1 hospital was randomly assigned to switch to “HEART care,” during which physicians calculated the HEART score to guide patient management.

Measurements:

For safety, a noninferiority margin of a 3.0% absolute increase in MACEs within 6 weeks was set. Other outcomes included use of health care resources, quality of life, and cost-effectiveness.

Results:

A total of 3648 patients were included (1827 receiving usual care and 1821 receiving HEART care). Six-week incidence of MACEs during HEART care was 1.3% lower than during usual care (upper limit of the 1-sided 95% CI, 2.1% [within the noninferiority margin of 3.0%]). In low-risk patients, incidence of MACEs was 2.0% (95% CI, 1.2% to 3.3%). No statistically significant differences in early discharge, readmissions, recurrent emergency department visits, outpatient visits, or visits to general practitioners were observed.

Limitation:

Physicians were hesitant to refrain from admission and diagnostic tests in patients classified as low risk by the HEART score.

Conclusion:

Using the HEART score during initial assessment of patients with chest pain is safe, but the effect on health care resources is limited, possibly due to nonadherence to management recommendations.

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