Patient delay in seeking care for heart attack symptoms: Findings from focus groups conducted in five U.S. regions

John R. Finnegan, Hendrika Meischke, Jane G. Zapka, Laura Leviton, Angela Meshack, Ruby Benjamin-Garner, Barbara Estabrook, Nancy Johnston Hall, Sheri Schaeffer, Cassandra Smith, Elissa R. Weitzman, James Raczynski, Elaine Stone

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

132 Scopus citations


Background. Patient delay in seeking health care for heart attack symptoms is a continuuing problem in the United States. Methods. Investigators conducted focus groups (N = 34; 207 participants) in major U.S. regions (NE, NW, SE, SW, MW) as formative evaluation to develop a multicenter randomized community trial (the REACT Project). Target groups included adults with previous heart attacks, those at higher risk for heart attack, and by-standers to heart attacks. There were also subgroups reflecting gender and ethnicity (African-American, Hispanic-American, White). Findings. Patients, bystanders, and those at higher risk expected heart attack symptoms to present as often portrayed in the movies, that is, as sharp, crushing chest pain rather than the more common onset of initially ambiguous but gradually increasing discomfort. Patients and those at higher risk also unrealistically judge their personal risk as low, understand little about the benefits of rapid action, are generally unaware of the benefits of using EMS/9-1-1 over alternative transport, and appear to need the 'permission' of health care providers or family to act. Moreover, participants reported rarely discussing heart attack symptoms and appropriate responses in advance with health care providers, spouses, or family members. Women often described heart attack as a 'male problem,'an important aspect of their underestimation of personal risk. African-American participants were more likely to describe negative feelings about EMS/9-1-1, particularly whether they would be transported to their hospital of choice. Conclusions. Interventions to reduce patient delay need to address expectations about heart attack symptoms, educate about benefits and appropriate actions, and provide legitimacy for taking specific health care-seeking actions. In addition, strategy development must emphasize the role of health care providers in legitimizing the need and importance of taking rapid action in the first place. (C) 2000 American Health Foundation and Academic Press.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)205-213
Number of pages9
JournalPreventive medicine
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jan 1 2000


  • Acute myocardial infarction
  • Community campaigns
  • Community trials
  • Emergency medical care
  • Focus groups
  • Formative evaluation
  • Heart attack

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