Original Research

Effects of Process Improvement on Guideline-Concordant Cardiac Enzyme Testing

Easily implemented ordering practices in the electronic health record increased the rate of guideline-concordant testing, decreased cost, and furthered the goal of high-value medical care.

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In recent years, driven by accelerating health care costs and desire for improved health care value, major specialty group guidelines have incorporated resource utilization and value calculations into their recommendations. High-value care has the characteristics of enhancing outcomes, safety, and patient satisfaction at a reasonable cost. As one example, the American College of Cardiology (ACC) recently published a consensus statement on its clinical practice guidelines with a specific focus on cost and value.1 This guideline acknowledges the difficulty in incorporating value into clinical decision making but stresses a need for increased transparency and consistency to boost value in everyday practice.

Chest pain and related symptoms were listed as the second leading principle reasons for emergency department visits in the US in 2011 with 14% of patients undergoing cardiac enzyme testing.2 The ACC guidelines advocate use of troponin as the preferred laboratory test for the initial evaluation of acute coronary syndrome (ACS). Fractionated creatine kinase (CK-MB) is an acceptable alternative only when a cardiac troponin test is not available.3 Furthermore, troponins should be obtained no more than 3 times for the initial evaluation of a single event, and further trending provides no additional benefit or prognostic information.

A recent study from an academic hospital showed that process improvement interventions focused on eliminating unnecessary cardiac enzyme testing led to a 1-year cost savings of $1.25 million while increasing the rate of ACS diagnosis.4 Common clinical practice at Naval Medical Center Portsmouth (NMCP) in Virginia still routinely includes both troponin as well as a CK panel comprised of CK, CK-MB, and a calculated CK-MB/CK index. Our study focuses on the implementation of quality improvement efforts described by Larochelle and colleagues at NMCP.4 The study aimed to determine the impact of implementing interventions designed to improve the ordering practices and reduce the cost of cardiac enzyme testing.


The primary focus of the intervention was on ordering practices of the emergency medicine department (EMD), internal medicine (IM) inpatient services, and cardiology inpatient services. Specific interventions were: (1) removal of the CK panel from the chest pain order set in the EMD electronic health record (EHR); (2) removal of the CK panel from the inpatient cardiology order set; (3) education of staff on the changes in CK panel utility via direct communication during IM academic seminars; (4) education of nursing staff ordering laboratory results on behalf of physicians on the cardiology service at the morning and evening huddles; and (5) addition of “max of 3 tests indicated” comment to the inpatient EHR ordering page of the troponin test. Acknowledging that the CK-MB has some utility to interventional cardiologists in the setting of confirmed ACS, the laboratory instituted an automated, reflexive order of the CK-MB panel only if the troponin tests were positive. This test was automatically run on the same vial originally sent to the lab to mitigate any additional delay in determining results.


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