A new test trialled in New Zealand could tell doctors in just 15 minutes whether a patient is at risk of suffering a possible heart attack.
Heart disease remains our country's biggest killer. On average, one New Zealander succumbs to it every 15 minutes – and health authorities expect rates to climb over coming decades.
Now, researchers have found a way to crucially cut down the amount of time it takes to rule out heart attack risk, through a quick and accurate bedside blood test that can be performed in emergency departments.
One of the lead authors of a just-published paper describing the test, Associate Professor John Pickering, said the development could make a big difference.
When a patient came into an ED with symptoms that suggested a potential heart attack, current laboratory blood-testing procedures could take one to two hours to reveal the risk level, whereas with the new test could yield a result within 15 minutes.
"The patient can then either be cleared to leave, or quickly progressed to specialist cardiac care," said Pickering, who helped trial the test as part of a collaboration between Canterbury District Health Board (CDHB) and the Otago University-hosted Christchurch Heart Institute.
"The benefits are therefore a speedier diagnosis and treatment, and a reduction in the time and effort current testing procedures require of ED staff, beds, and equipment."
Another senior author, CDHB emergency medicine specialist Dr Martin Than, explained current point-of-care tests could lack the precision of the new method, which was centred around a measurement of a protein in the blood called cardiac troponin.
The observational study, conducted between 2016 and 2017, at Christchurch Hospital's emergency department, included about 350 patients with symptoms of a heart attack.
So far, testing had shown that close to half could have the risk of heart attack safely excluded soon after arrival at the ED.
Wider study was in progress, and there were plans to roll out the study across 10 DHBs next year.
"Our results have extremely exciting potential for not only EDs, but also isolated healthcare providers - such as those in rural communities – worldwide," Than said.
"Even the concerning impact heart disease and other cardio-vascular conditions have on not only New Zealand society but also internationally, we have something that could benefit tens of millions of patients globally, while also freeing up EDs and isolated healthcare staff and resources."
The study was supported by the Canterbury Medical Research Foundation, the Emergency Care Foundation, the Health Research Council and the New Zealand Heart Foundation.