Senior author Dr. Dennis T. Ko, a scientist at the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences and cardiologist at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto, said the study demonstrated the importance of follow-up care for chest pain patients after leaving the ER.
"Being discharged from the emergency department is reassuring for patients, but it is critical that they follow up with their doctor to reduce their risks of future heart attacks or premature death," Ko said in a statement. "Patients need to advocate for themselves and physicians need to be more diligent about arranging follow-up care."
The research team analyzed data on 56,767 adults -- average age 66 and 53 percent men -- in Ontario, Canada, who were diagnosed with chest pain in an emergency room from April 2004 to March 2010; had been previously diagnosed with heart disease or diabetes; and didn't require additional hospitalization or die within a month.
The study, published in the journal Circulation, found only 17 percent of high-risk chest pain patients seen in the emergency room were evaluated by cardiologists within a month; 58 percent saw a primary care physician and 25 percent had no physician follow-up within a month.
Patients who followed up with a cardiologist within 30 days were 21 percent less likely to have a heart attack or die within one year, compared with patients who failed to seek additional care within that time, the study found.