The scans generate three-dimensional images of the heart and the blood vessels surrounding it, the researchers noted.
Among those with a normal scan, none died or had a heart attack within a month after being seen in the ER. In addition, more of these patients were sent home than those who received usual care -- about 50 percent versus 23 percent, the researchers found.
Those who received scans spent less time in the hospital and had heart problems diagnosed faster.
Scans are also cost-effective, Hollander said. The tests, which are like a standard CT scan, cost about $1,500. Patients who have a normal scan can be sent home within a few hours. A patient who is admitted to the hospital can run up bills of more than $4,000 for stress tests and monitoring alone, the researchers noted.
Chest pain is one of the most common reasons people go to the emergency room in the United States, accounting for as many as 8 million visits each year, at a cost of several billion dollars, they noted.
Many patients with chest pain are suffering from anxiety, pneumonia or indigestion that can cause the same symptoms as a heart attack, the researchers explained. Yet, more than half of patients with chest pain are admitted to the hospital for observation or testing such as cardiac catheterization or a stress test.
Commenting on the study, Dr. Gregg Fonarow, director of the Ahmanson-UCLA Cardiomyopathy Center and co-director of the UCLA Preventative Cardiology Program, said that "there are 8 million men and women that present to emergency medical centers with chest pain each year."
There has been great interest in developing strategies to more efficiently evaluate these patients and identify which ones can be safely discharged, he said.
The trial demonstrated that these scans may be use
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