Objective To evaluate how selection of patients for high sensitivity cardiac troponin testing affects the diagnosis of myocardial infarction across different healthcare settings.Design Prospective study of three independent consecutive patient populations presenting to emergency departments.Setting Secondary and tertiary care hospitals in the United Kingdom and United States.Participants High sensitivity cardiac troponin I concentrations were measured in 8500 consecutive patients presenting to emergency departments: unselected patients in the UK (n=1054) and two selected populations of patients in whom troponin testing was requested by the attending clinician in the UK (n=5815) and the US (n=1631). The final diagnosis of type 1 or type 2 myocardial infarction or myocardial injury was independently adjudicated.Main outcome measures Positive predictive value of an elevated cardiac troponin concentration for a diagnosis of type 1 myocardial infarction.Results Cardiac troponin concentrations were elevated in 13.7% (144/1054) of unselected patients, with a prevalence of 1.6% (17/1054) for type 1 myocardial infarction and a positive predictive value of 11.8% (95% confidence interval 7.0% to 18.2%). In selected patients, in whom troponin testing was guided by the attending clinician, the prevalence and positive predictive value were 14.5% (843/5815) and 59.7% (57.0% to 62.2%) in the UK and 4.2% (68/1631) and 16.4% (13.0% to 20.3%) in the US. Across both selected patient populations, the positive predictive value was highest in patients with chest pain, with ischaemia on the electrocardiogram, and with a history of ischaemic heart disease.Conclusions When high sensitivity cardiac troponin testing is performed widely or without previous clinical assessment, elevated troponin concentrations are common and predominantly reflect myocardial injury rather than myocardial infarction. These observations highlight how selection of patients for cardiac troponin testing varies across healthcare settings and markedly influences the positive predictive value for a diagnosis of myocardial infarction.