According to this study, researchers showed a new test designed to better measure levels of troponin, a protein released when the heart muscle is damaged, could help emergency department physicians provide faster diagnosis and appropriate treatment. When diagnosing a heart attack, accuracy and timing are everything. This study published in JAMA Cardiology.

Assays to measure troponin have been common place procedure for nearly 30 years. They're part of a standard range of diagnostics, including electrocardiogram and coronary angiography, which help doctors confirm a heart attack. Existing tests are less accurate in the initial hours after a heart attack begins, which can delay crucial intervention and clog waiting rooms as patients must wait for repeat testing to be able to definitively rule out a heart attack.

The high-sensitivity assay can measure tenfold lower concentrations of troponin -; much smaller amounts than the current assay is able to. It takes some time for the proteins to leave the heart and get into the bloodstream, so this new test can tell us a lot sooner whether you're having a heart attack or not. It's also a lot more reliable: If you measure a value now and you repeat that measurement again with the same blood sample.

It doesn't change very much compared to the old assays where there was a larger amount of analytical change. Another potential benefit is greater prevention of cardiovascular disease. A recent study in JAMA Cardiology found that people with higher levels of troponin, even without having a heart attack, are more likely to develop heart failure.

About 70% of people having a heart attack are going to have a positive result on the first blood draw (using the current troponin test). If it's a big heart attack, we're going to see it. Those having smaller heart attacks or those with a lot of blockage may have more delay. Suffice to say, we're in the business where 70% is not good enough.

This new test is a lot higher: About 82% of those having a heart attack have elevated troponin levels even if the initial blood test is measured within six hours of onset of symptoms. A significant proportion of emergency department visits are for chest pain. By being able to reduce the amount of time we spend answering whether a patient has had a heart attack, we're able to focus a little bit more on other patients and decrease our wait times.

They need to be understanding in interpreting the results and not necessarily think that if someone's troponin value is high the person is having a heart attack. Institutions must learn how well the test is operating in their hands and how best to use it to derive the benefits.