Despite available therapy, mortality and readmission rates within 60–90 days of discharge for patients hospitalized with heart failure (HF) approach 15% and 30%, respectively. This early postdischarge period has been termed the ‘vulnerable phase’ and accounts for a disproportionate amount of the >US$30 billion spent annually on HF care in the USA. The pathophysiology underlying these early adverse events is likely associated with persistently elevated filling pressures at time of discharge and subsequent acute or subacute worsening of postdischarge haemodynamics. Despite limited proven strategies to reduce early adverse events, hospitals in the USA face penalties for 30-day readmission rates that exceed current expectations, and an urgent need exists for novel approaches to improve early postdischarge outcomes. The objective of this Review is to describe the early postdischarge problem among patients hospitalized for HF, the associated patient profile and pathophysiology, and the limitations of current postdischarge treatment strategies. We also identify therapeutic targets and outline a progressive management approach that should be considered by clinicians for reducing early postdischarge morbidity and mortality. Although these strategies require prospective validation, they are practical, affordable, and have the potential to improve patient outcomes substantially after HF hospitalization.