The impact of the HEART risk score in the early assessment of patients with acute chest pain: Design of a stepped wedge, cluster randomised trial

Judith M. Poldervaart*, Johannes B. Reitsma, Hendrik Koffijberg, Barbra E. Backus, A. Jacob Six, Pieter A. Doevendans, Arno W. Hoes

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

42 Citations (Scopus)
53 Downloads (Pure)


Background: Chest pain remains a diagnostic challenge: physicians do not want to miss an acute coronary syndrome (ACS), but, they also wish to avoid unnecessary additional diagnostic procedures. In approximately 75% of the patients presenting with chest pain at the emergency department (ED) there is no underlying cardiac cause. Therefore, diagnostic strategies focus on identifying patients in whom an ACS can be safely ruled out based on findings from history, physical examination and early cardiac marker measurement. The HEART score, a clinical prediction rule, was developed to provide the clinician with a simple, early and reliable predictor of cardiac risk. We set out to quantify the impact of the use of the HEART score in daily practice on patient outcomes and costs.

Methods/Design: We designed a prospective, multi-centre, stepped wedge, cluster randomised trial. Our aim is to include a total of 6600 unselected chest pain patients presenting at the ED in 10 Dutch hospitals during an 11-month period. All clusters (i.e. hospitals) start with a period of 'usual care' and are randomised in their timing when to switch to 'intervention care'. The latter involves the calculation of the HEART score in each patient to guide clinical decision; notably reassurance and discharge of patients with low scores and intensive monitoring and early intervention in patients with high HEART scores. Primary outcome is occurrence of major adverse cardiac events (MACE), including acute myocardial infarction, revascularisation or death within 6 weeks after presentation. Secondary outcomes include occurrence of MACE in low-risk patients, quality of life, use of health care resources and costs.

Discussion: Stepped wedge designs are increasingly used to evaluate the real-life effectiveness of non-pharmacological interventions because of the following potential advantages: (a) each hospital has both a usual care and an intervention period, therefore, outcomes can be compared within and across hospitals; (b) each hospital will have an intervention period which enhances participation in case of a promising intervention; (c) all hospitals generate data about potential implementation problems. This large impact trial will generate evidence whether the anticipated benefits (in terms of safety and cost-effectiveness) of using the HEART score will indeed be achieved in real-life clinical practice. Trial registration: 80-82310-97-12154.

Original languageEnglish
Article number77
JournalBMC Cardiovascular Disorders
Publication statusPublished - 26 Sep 2013


  • Chest pain
  • Clinical prediction rule
  • Cluster randomised trial
  • HEART score
  • Impact
  • Risk score implementation
  • Stepped wedge design


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