Despite recent advances in the diagnosis and treatment of various cardiac illnesses, including ischemic, valvular and cardiomyopathic disease, the most cost-effective means of employing laboratory testing and treatment modalities remains an issue in most practice settings. With the advent of managed care and vigilant third-party payer evaluation of the use of diagnostic tests and hospital length of stay, the most effective medical and economic method of managing everyday cardiac illness is a question that arises daily in practice. To this end, we have selected well-known and widely published experts in cardiac diagnosis and therapy to develop practical and informative approaches outlining the most cost-effective methods of patient management. The topics include the entire range of cardiac diseases and emphasize the economic impact on decision-making. We develop guidelines and present general strategies for the practicing cardiologist and general internist. Additionally, the editors, who have 10 years of experience in this area, discuss the methods necessary to bring critical pathways and practice guidelines into clinical use. Both hospital and out-patient phases of illness are considered. Special concerns of hospital, private practice managed care and group practice settings are specifically addressed.