A survey of exercise testing: methods, utilization, interpretation, and safety in the VAHCS [In Process Citation]


Myers J; Voodi L; Umann T; Froelicher VF


VA Palo Alto Health Care System, CA 94304, USA.


J Cardiopulm Rehabil 2000 Jul-Aug;20(4):251-8


[MEDLINE record in process]


PMID: 10955267 UI: 20412083


BACKGROUND: Healthcare organizations are being graded in terms of their adherence to practice guidelines. The authors sought information on practice patterns of exercise testing within the Veterans Affairs Health Care System (VAHCS) to determine how well current practice patterns adhere to current guidelines. In addition, we sought to update past surveys to determine methods, indications, utilization of alternative diagnostic modalities, criteria for interpretation, safety, and physician supervision of exercise testing within the VAHCS. METHODS: Questionnaires were sent to 72 of the largest Veterans Affairs Medical Centers with cardiology divisions. The centers were queried regarding volume and type of exercise testing (standard, nuclear, and echocardiographic), indications, safety, protocols used, and criteria for interpretation. RESULTS: Seventy-one questionnaires were returned, comprising a total of 75,828 exercise tests performed within the last year. Virtually all indications for exercise testing fit the American Heart Association/American College of Cardiology (AHA/ACC) guidelines Class I criteria; 46% of patients were tested for the evaluation of chest pain; 14% were tested to evaluate patients at high risk for coronary artery disease; 10% were preoperative evaluations; and 8% were post-myocardial infarction evaluations. The most commonly used diagnostic test was the standard exercise electrocardiogram; a patient was five times more likely to undergo a standard exercise electrocardiogram or nuclear exercise test than an exercise or pharmacologic echocardiogram. The largest proportion of centers (49%) used 1.0-mm horizontal or downsloping ST depression as a criterion for an abnormal test, although 22% considered 1.5-mm upsloping ST depression to be abnormal, and 25% relied on a treadmill score. Seventy-eight percent of respondents used the treadmill, and of these, 82% used the Bruce or modified Bruce protocol. Four major cardiac events were reported (three myocardial infarctions, one sustained ventricular tachycardia) representing an event rate of 1.2/10,000. A physician was present during 73% of all standard exercise tests; 21% of respondents reported that a physician was required to be present "only for high-risk patients." CONCLUSION: Indications for exercise testing are in close agreement with the AHA/ACC guidelines; thus, the test continues to have an important role in diagnosis and prognosis among patients with or suspected of having coronary artery disease. The exercise test is an extremely safe procedure, with an event rate similar to other recent surveys. However, a great deal of variation exists in terms of criteria for abnormal results and whether physician presence is required during exercise testing.