Aim. The aim of this study was to explore how health care professionals perceive the well-being of patients and relatives following open-heart surgery.
Background. Open-heart surgery is an extraordinary life event associated with hope and fear among both patients and relatives, thus they require attention from health care professionals. Patients’ short stay in hospital after surgery and the workload of health care professionals increase the risk that reduced well-being will be overlooked. Health care professionals need to become familiar with the signs of reduced well-being.
Design. The study has an observational design and was performed using a qualitative method.
Method. Health care professionals working with patients who have undergone open-heart surgery participated in focus group discussions. The data were analysed by means of content analysis.
Results. Two categories emerged: signs of vulnerability and signs of insecurity. The latent meaning of the study was interpreted as awareness of an exposed position.
Conclusion. The health care professionals were aware of patients’ and relatives’ exposed position following open-heart surgery. Reduced well-being was communicated by bodily and emotional signs, which were captured using direct communication or intuition.
Relevance to clinical practice. Developing the ability to recognise signs of reduced well-being is important for minimising the negative influences associated with open-heart surgery for patients and relatives. Increased awareness that both anger and avoidance can mask depression is important. Patients and their relatives, particularly younger ones, should be observed to ensure early detection of a life crisis provoked by the heart disease. Furthermore, staff should invite patients and their partners to talk about sexuality. Changes aimed at increasing patients’ and relatives’ well-being would be facilitated by interdisciplinary teamwork, ‘reflection groups’ for a greater exchange of knowledge and the implementation of a patient/family perspective. The latter would lead to greater interest in the relatives’ situation and position in cardiac care.