Despite medical advances, heart attack victims still take as much time to get back to work today as they did 15 years ago, says a new study that finds many patients could return to their jobs earlier.

Medical discoveries have shown that heart attack patients often benefit from getting up and around sooner, being released from the hospital earlier and exercising, said authors of the study in Friday's Journal of the American Medical Association.Even so, heart attack patients generally take 60 days to 90 days to get back to work, and "physicians' recommendations concerning return to work are largely based on subjective judgments that have changed little since 1973," the study said.

The study, led by Dr. Charles Dennis of the Stanford Cardiac Rehabilitation Program in Palo Alto, Calif., evaluated 201 men who had suffered heart attacks without other medical problems. Subjects were divided into two groups: those receiving usual care and those receiving a special medical evaluation to determine fitness for work.

Evaluations were performed three weeks after the patient's heart attack by a team of heart experts who administered a treadmill test and used data on previous victims to estimate the risk each subject would have of experiencing further heart trouble.

The team then advised each patient's doctor of the findings so the doctor could make a more informed recommendation on when the patient could resume work.

The study found that unless otherwise informed, doctors generally estimated risk as much higher than it was and "patients' perceptions of risk mirrored those of their doctors."

For instance, doctors typically estimated patients in the study had a 20 percent chance of suffering another fatal or non-fatal heart attack within six months, while heart-team evaluations typically found a 5 percent risk and the real risk turned out to be 3.5 percent, the researchers said.