Skip to main content
Open Access Publications from the University of California

Comparing an Unstructured Risk Stratification to Published Guidelines in Acute Coronary Syndromes


Introduction: Guidelines are designed to encompass the needs of the majority of patients with a particular condition. The American Heart Association (AHA) in conjunction with the American College of Cardiology (ACC) and the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP) developed risk stratification guidelines to aid physicians with accurate and efficient diagnosis and management of patients with acute coronary syndrome (ACS). While useful in a primary care setting, in the unique environment of an emergency department (ED), the feasibility of incorporating guidelines into clinical workflow remains in question. We aim to compare emergency physicians’ (EP) clinical risk stratification ability to AHA/ACC/ACEP guidelines for ACS, and assessed each for accuracy in predicting ACS.

Methods: We conducted a prospective observational cohort study in an urban teaching hospital ED. All patients presenting to the ED with chest pain who were evaluated for ACS had two risk stratification scores assigned: one by the treating physician based on clinical evaluation and the other by the AHA/ACC/ACEP guideline aforementioned. The patient’s ACS risk stratification classified by the EP was compared to AHA/ACC/ACEP guidelines. Patients were contacted at 30 days following the index ED visit to determine all cause mortality, unscheduled hospital/ED revisits, and objective cardiac testing performed.

Results: We enrolled 641 patients presenting for evaluation by 21 different EPs. There was a difference between the physician’s clinical assessment used in the ED, and the AHA/ACC/ACEP task force guidelines. EPs were more likely to assess patients as low risk (40%), while AHA/ACC/ACEP guidelines were more likely to classify patients as intermediate (45%) or high (45%) risk. Of the 119 (19%) patients deemed high risk by EP evaluation, 38 (32%) were diagnosed with ACS. AHA/ACC/ACEP guidelines classified only 57 (9%) patients low risk with 56 (98%) of those patients diagnosed with no ACS.

Conclusion: In the ED, physicians are more efficient at correctly placing patients with underlying ACS into a high-risk category. A small percentage of patients were considered low risk when applying AHA/ACC/ACEP guidelines, which demonstrates how clinical insight is often required to make an efficient assessment of cardiac risk and established criteria may be overly conservative when applied to an acute care population.

Main Content
For improved accessibility of PDF content, download the file to your device.
Current View