RESEARCH SUPPORT, U.S. GOV'T, P.H.S.
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Value of the history and physical in identifying patients at increased risk for coronary artery disease.

OBJECTIVE: To determine whether information from the physician's initial evaluation of patients with suspected coronary artery disease predicts coronary anatomy at catheterization and 3-year survival.

DESIGN: Prospective validation of regression model estimates in an outpatient cohort.

SETTING: University medical center.

PATIENTS: A total of 1030 consecutive outpatients referred for noninvasive testing for suspected coronary artery disease; 168 of these patients subsequently underwent catheterization within 90 days.

MEASUREMENTS: Information from the initial history, physical examination, electrocardiogram, and chest radiograph was used to predict coronary anatomy (the likelihood of any significant coronary disease, severe disease [left main or three-vessel], and significant left main disease) among 168 catheterized patients and to estimate 3-year survival among all patients. These estimates were compared with those based on treadmill testing. Cardiovascular testing charges were calculated for all patients.

RESULTS: Predicted coronary anatomy and survival closely corresponded to actual findings. Compared with the treadmill exercise test, initial evaluation was slightly better able to distinguish patients with or without any coronary disease and was similar in the ability to identify patients at increased risk for dying or with anatomically severe disease. Based on arbitrary definitions, 37% to 66% of patients were at low risk and responsible for 31% to 56% of the charges for cardiovascular testing.

CONCLUSIONS: The physician's initial evaluation, despite the subjective nature of much of the information gathered, can be used to identify patients likely to benefit from further testing. The development of strategies for cost-conscious quality care must begin with the history, physical examination, and simple laboratory testing.

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