BACKGROUND: Multiple clinical trials have provided guidelines for the treatment of myocardial infarction, but there is little documentation as to how consistently their recommendations are being implemented in clinical practice. METHODS AND RESULTS: Demographic, procedural, and outcome data from patients with acute myocardial infarction were collected at 1073 US hospitals collaborating in the National Registry of Myocardial Infarction during 1990 through 1993. Registry hospitals composed 14.4% of all US hospitals and were more likely to have a coronary care unit and invasive cardiac facilities than nonregistry US hospitals. Among 240,989 patients with myocardial infarction enrolled, 84,477 (35.1%) received thrombolytic therapy. Thrombolytic recipients were younger, more likely to be male, presented sooner after onset of symptoms, and were more likely to have localizing ECG changes. Among the 60,430 patients treated with recombinant tissue-type plasminogen activator (rTPA), 23.2% received it in the coronary care unit rather than in the emergency department. Elapsed time from hospital presentation to starting rTPA averaged 99 minutes (median, 57 minutes). Among patients receiving thrombolytic therapy, concomitant pharmacotherapy included intravenous heparin (96.9%), aspirin (84.0%), intravenous nitroglycerin (76.0%), oral beta-blockers (36.3%), calcium channel blockers (29.5%), and intravenous beta-blockers (17.4%). Invasive procedures in thrombolytic recipients included coronary arteriography (70.7%), angioplasty (30.3%), and bypass surgery (13.3%). Trend analyses from 1990 to 1993 suggest that the time from hospital evaluation to initiating thrombolytic therapy is shortening, usage of aspirin and beta-blockers is increasing, and usage of calcium channel blockers is decreasing. CONCLUSIONS: This large registry experience suggests that management of myocardial infarction in the United States does not yet conform to many of the recent clinical trial recommendations. Thrombolytic therapy is underused, particularly in the elderly and late presenters. Although emerging trends toward more appropriate treatment are evident, hospital delay time in initiating thrombolytic therapy remains long, aspirin and beta-blockers appear to be underused, and calcium channel blockers and invasive procedures appear to be overused.