The results of a 6-month retrospective audit of patients presenting with chest pain to an accident and emergency (A&E) department to which 46,000 new patients per year present are discussed. The computer diagnostic code assigned to the patients by the A&E doctor, referral rates for second opinion and disposal after assessment in the A&E department are examined, with particular reference to patients who may have had serious cardiac pathology, such as acute myocardial infarction (AMI) or unstable angina. Audit showed that overall 61% of patients with chest pain of all causes were assessed and discharged home by A&E doctors without recourse to second opinion. Of patients thought by the A&E doctors to have chest pain of cardiac origin, who were referred to the duty medical registrar or cardiologist, 88% were admitted. As a result of these findings a policy of more open referral for second opinion was instituted to reduce the likelihood of discharging patients home with serious cardiac pathology. In addition, the clinical problems of AMI and unstable angina are emphasized to all senior house officers early in their educational programme after joining A&E. Published literature on the diagnosis and misdiagnosis of AMI and unstable angina in the A&E department is reviewed. These studies are almost exclusively from North America, and a need for similar work in the U.K. is discussed.
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