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Cardiac rehabilitation (CR) programs have been shown to promote numerous health benefits among patients with active coronary heart disease (CHD), but little is known about the percentage of eligible CHD patients who enroll in CR.A survey was performed of 500 randomly chosen CR programs in operation in the United States during 1990. Patient characteristics and enrollment data were combined with data from the 1990 National Hospital Discharge Survey to estimate the percentage of eligible patients who participated in early outpatient (Phase II) CR programs after myocardial infarction (MI), after coronary angioplasty (PTCA), or after coronary artery bypass surgery (CABS).Completed surveys were returned by 163 programs (32.6%) with information on 1,322 women and 1,418 men who enrolled in their programs in 1990. Women were older, more likely to be single, and had more traditional CHD risk factors than men. Only a minority of MI, PTCA, and CABS survivors enrolled in CR programs (10.8%, 10.3% and 23.4%, respectively). Enrollment was particularly low for post-MI and post-CABS women as compared with men: 6.9% versus 13.3% (P <.001), and 20.2% versus 24.6% (P <.001), respectively. Enrollment was generally lowest for nonwhites, those over age 65, and those living in the southern United States.Cardiac rehabilitation programs are used by a minority of eligible patients, particularly among women, non-whites, and the elderly. To meet newly released national guidelines that recommend CR services for most patients recovering from MI, PTCA, or CABS, and to still contain costs, new methods need to be explored that can expand the delivery of CR services in clinical settings.