acute coronary syndromes, decision making, emergency treatment



  1. DeVon, Holli A. PhD, RN
  2. Hogan, Nancy PhD, RN, FAAN
  3. Ochs, Amy L. RN, MSN, CNP
  4. Shapiro, Moshe MS


Background and Research Objectives: Multiple sociodemographic and environmental factors have been associated with urgent treatment-seeking behaviors for patients experiencing acute coronary syndromes (ACSs). However, variables that directly affect the decision to seek care in the emergency department (ED) have been less well defined. The objective of this study was to explore the factors associated with a decision to seek care for symptoms of ACSs and to describe patient characteristics associated with time to presentation.


Subjects and Methods: A cross-sectional, descriptive design was used. The nonprobability sample included 256 patients admitted to the hospital with ACSs. The study was conducted on cardiac step-down units at 2 large urban medical centers. Reasons for seeking care were elicited during structured interviews in the patient's room. These factors and other patient characteristics were treated as predictor variables in an analysis of time from symptom onset to arrival in the ED.


Results and Conclusions: Five categories of decision making were identified through descriptive content analyses and were labeled new onset of chest pain, ongoing evaluation of symptom severity, symptoms other than chest pain that worsened or were unrelieved, externally motivated, and internally motivated. Median time from symptom onset to arrival in the ED was 9.5 hours for women and 6 hours for men. Patients who experienced constant pain (hazard ratio, 1.44; P =.01) and those with ST-segment elevation myocardial infarction (hazard ratio, 1.59; P = .004) sought treatment significantly sooner than patients with intermittent pain. Older patients sought treatment later (hazard ratio, 0.99; P = .02). Patients who are older and experience intermittent pain should be encouraged to seek emergent treatment for symptoms that may represent ACSs. New evidence of patients' decision-making processes and dangerous delay in time to treatment provides knowledge needed to counsel patients about the benefits of seeking care quickly when symptoms begin.