Physician variability in management of emergency department patients with chest pain

Peter B. Smulowitz, Orit Barrett, Matthew M. Hall, Shamai A. Grossman, Edward A. Ullman, Victor Novack

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


Introduction: Chest pain is a common emergency department (ED) presentation accounting for 8-10 million visits per year in the United States. Physician-level factors such as risk tolerance are predictive of admission rates. The recent advent of accelerated diagnostic pathways and ED observation units may have an impact in reducing variation in admission rates on the individual physician level. Methods: We conducted a single-institution retrospective observational study of ED patients with a diagnosis of chest pain as determined by diagnostic code from our hospital administrative database. We included ED visits from 2012 and 2013. Patients with an elevated troponin or an electrocardiogram (ECG) demonstrating an ST elevation myocardial infarction were excluded. Patients were divided into two groups: "admission" (this included observation and inpatients) and "discharged." We stratified physicians by age, gender, residency location, and years since medical school. We controlled for patient- and hospital-related factors including age, gender, race, insurance status, daily ED volume, and lab values. Results: Of 4,577 patients with documented dispositions, 3,252 (70.9%) were either admitted to the hospital or into observation (in an ED observation unit or in the hospital), while 1,333 (29.1%) were discharged. Median number of patients per physician was 132 (interquartile range 89-172). Average admission rate was 73.7±9.5% ranging from 54% to 96%. Of the 3,252 admissions, 2,638 (81.1%) were to observation. There was significant variation in the admission rate at the individual physician level with adjusted odds ratio ranging from 0.42 to 5.8 as compared to the average admission. Among physicians' characteristics, years elapsed since finishing medical school demonstrated a trend towards association with a higher admission probability. Conclusion: There is substantial variation among physicians in the management of patients presenting with chest pain, with physician experience playing a role.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)592-600
Number of pages9
JournalWestern Journal of Emergency Medicine
Issue number4
StatePublished - 1 Jun 2017
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Emergency Medicine


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