Study to review treadmill testing at Christchurch Hospital

The Heart Foundation has announced a $148,000 grant to fund an exercise stress (treadmill) testing review at Christchurch Hospital, which researchers believe will reduce overcrowding at emergency and cardiology departments.

Dr Joanna Young

The study will look at criteria for treadmill testing of low-risk patients with chest pain, who have not suffered a heart attack.

“If we can safely classify lower-risk patients who don’t actually need treadmill testing this will reduce hospital over-crowding, waiting lists for stress testing and unnecessary cardiac screening,” says the projects’ lead-researcher and Heart Foundation Post-Doctoral Research Fellow Dr Joanna Young.

“A New Zealand-wide strategy would mean treadmill testing could be more targeted to those Kiwis who may actually be at risk of a heart attack. Many tests are currently performed unnecessarily and there are differences in who receives these tests throughout New Zealand.”  

Heart Foundation funding

The project is part of the Heart Foundation’s $1.8 million funding for heart research and specialist training for cardiologists in 2017, bringing the total awarded by the charity since 1970 to almost $60 million.

Every year, 65,000 New Zealanders go to an emergency department with chest pain, but only about 10-15% of them have actually had a heart attack.

While actual figures are unavailable, it is estimated tens of thousands of those who haven’t, are referred for a treadmill test. Only about 4% of these tests detect heart problems that require follow up.

 “The procedures differ locally and internationally, but in much of New Zealand low-risk patients are sent home and recalled for treadmill testing at a later date. At Christchurch Hospital this is ideally done within 72 hours,” says Young.

Getting the best care for patients

Her team’s two-and-a-half year project at Christchurch Hospital is part of her wider post-doctoral fellowship to develop and evaluate procedures to assess cardiovascular risk, ensuring patients showing up with chest pain at emergency departments or rural GPs get the best possible care. 

One of the group’s previous research outcomes was to identify low-risk chest pain patients who could be safely discharged from emergency departments within 6 hours, with an out-patient follow up.

Once the study at Christchurch Hospital Cardiology Department has developed a strategy to safely reduce the number of patients requiring a treadmill test, Dr Young says it could be implemented in a nationwide study which would free up vital healthcare resources.

Heart Foundation Medical Director Gerry Devlin says he is delighted the Heart Foundation is able to support research projects such as Dr Young’s.

“Our 2017 grants cover a wide spectrum of research and training from ‘bench to bedside’. Starting with laboratory research, right through to improving cardiovascular risk prediction and investing in cutting-edge overseas training for Kiwi cardiologists” says Devlin.

“The Heart Foundation funding of Dr Young’s project and many other researchers will improve cardiovascular care for all New Zealanders.”

Read more about our research grants