BACKGROUND: Electrocardiography is the fundamental investigation for decision making regarding thrombolytic treatment in acute myocardial infarction (MI). Increasing the accuracy of ECG analysis by input from consultant staff may assist in management decisions in patients with suspected MI. AIMS: To evaluate a system whereby out of hours ECGs can be faxed to the consultant to aid in decision making regarding thrombolytic treatment. METHODS: 112 patients with suspected MI were assessed on admission by the senior house officer (SHO) who faxed to a cardiology consultant the ECG trace and a predesigned form with information on: clinical assessment of the patient; interpretation of the ECG; and views regarding administration of thrombolytic treatment including choice of agent. The consultant reviewed the information and communicated his views to the SHO. Subsequent diagnosis was recorded in all patients and the forms were analysed in regard to areas of agreement and disagreement between the SHO and the consultant. RESULTS: A diagnosis of MI was confirmed in 52 of the 112 patients (46.4%). The consultant agreed with the SHO's decision on thrombolysis in 98 patients (87.5%). The reason for disagreement in the remaining 14 patients (12.5%) was SHO misinterpretation of the ECG (10 patients) and clinical assessment (four patients). Eight patients were saved unnecessary thrombolytic treatment and four received it when they otherwise would not have. Additionally the choice of thrombolytic agent was changed in six patients from streptokinase to tissue plasminogen activator. CONCLUSION: The use of fax machine assists in decision making with regard to thrombolytic treatment and provides support to junior doctors in what can be a difficult, yet critical decision.
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