• cardiac care;
  • health services research;
  • nursing;
  • rehabilitation

Aims.  The aim of this paper is to report a study to describe how cardiac patients experience the first 3 months following a cardiac event requiring hospitalization, identify differences between the needs expressed by patients and the support they received during their recuperation and produce a preliminary model for the development of cardiac rehabilitation programmes, taking into account the patient perspective.

Background.  Although cardiac rehabilitation should be standard care for patients with cardiovascular disease, less than 20% begin and maintain a rehabilitation programme. Cited barriers include inadequate rehabilitation services, sub-optimal referral, low participation rates of women and older adults and travel considerations. The literature suggests that programmes better adjusted to patient needs could increase attendance, but little research has considered this perspective.

Methods.  Focus groups were conducted with a purposefully selected sample of 20 men and women who had been hospitalized for myocardial infarction, angina or percutaneous angioplasty. Data were analysed using qualitative content analysis.

Findings.  A gap exists between what traditional rehabilitation programmes offer and patients’ expressed needs during the recuperating process after hospitalization for a cardiac event. In our study, participants focused on stress management rather than on modifying health habits. Support groups were viewed as beneficial and, according to patients, accepting their condition, knowing their limits and better continuity of care would also help reduce stress. Based on the findings, we devised a model as the basis for developing cardiac rehabilitation programmes.

Conclusion.  Cardiac rehabilitation programmes need to shift their focus of attention from promoting healthier behaviours to responding to participants’ perceived needs, alongside risk factor reduction.