September 1998 • Volume 136 • Number 3



Can computerization of the exercise test replace the cardiologist?

J. Edwin Atwood, MD
Dat Do, BA
Victor Froelicher, MD
Robert Chilton, MD
Charles Dennis, MD
Jeff Froning, MA
Andras Janosi, MD
David Mortara, PhD
Jonathan Myers, PhD
Palo Alto and Vista, Calif.; San Antonio, Texas; Milwaukee, Wis.; Brown Mills, N.J.; and Budapest, Hungary


Background The type of practitioners who use the standard exercise test is changing. Once a tool of the cardiologist, the standard exercise test is now being performed by internists and other noncardiologists. Because this change could be facilitated by computerization similar to the computerized interpretation programs available for the resting electrocardiograph (ECG), we performed this analysis. A secondary aim was to demonstrate the effects of medication status and resting ECG abnormalities on test diagnostic characteristics because these factors affect utility of the exercise test by the generalist.
Methods and Results A retrospective analysis was performed of consecutive patients referred at 2 university-affiliated Veteran’s Affairs Medical Centers and a Hungarian Hospital for evaluation of chest pain and possible ischemic heart disease. There were 1384 consecutive male patients without a prior myocardial infarction with complete data who had exercise tests and coronary angiography between 1987 and 1997. Measurements included clinical, exercise test data, and visual interpretation of the ECG recordings as well as more than 100 computed measurements from the digitized ECG recordings and compilation of angiographic data from clinical reports. The computer measurements had similar diagnostic power compared with visual interpretation. Computerized measurements from maximal exercise or recovery were equivalent or superior to all other measurements. Prediction equations applied by computer were superior to single ECG measurements. -Blockers had no effect on test characteristics, whereas resting ST depression was associated with decreased specificity and increased sensitivity.
Conclusions Computerized exercise ST measurements are comparable to visual ST measurements by a cardiologist; computerized scores that included clinical and exercise test results exhibited the greatest diagnostic power. Applying scores with a computer allows the practicing physician to improve the diagnostic characteristics of the standard exercise test. This approach is successful even when there is resting ST depression, thus lessening the need for more expensive nuclear or imaging studies. (Am Heart J 1998;136:543-52.)


  • From the Cardiology Divisions at the Veterans Affairs Palo Alto Health Care System, Stanford University; University of Texas at San Antonio; Deborah Heart Institute; Sunnyside Biomedical; and St. Janos’s Municipal Hospital.
  • Submitted Dec. 16, 1997.
  • Accepted Feb. 20, 1998.
  • Reprint requests: Victor Froelicher, MD, Cardiology Division (111 C), VA Palo Alto Health Care System, 3801 Miranda Ave., Palo Alto, CA 94304.
  • Copyright 1998 by Mosby, Inc.
  • 4/1/90418

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