Background Care of cardiac surgery patients has changed substantially in the past decade, with an emphasis on streamlined procedures and shortened hospital stays. The few qualitative reports of patients’ perspectives of this experience focus primarily on physical complications and discomforts during the immediate postoperative period.

Objective To examine patients’ perceptions of the quality of the nursing and medical care they received during their hospital stay after cardiac surgery.

Methods Data were collected from a consecutive sample of 89 cardiac surgical patients who consented to participate in 2 telephone interviews at 1 week and 6 weeks after hospitalization. Patients responded to a single open-ended question: “What do you want your nurses and doctors to know to help them do a better job?” Thematic extraction analysis of patients’ responses was conducted by using commercially available statistical software. Extracted themes were applied to the structure-process-outcome framework of quality of care.

Results Four major themes (and 12 subthemes) were identified: (1) being satisfied (having a positive experience, getting information), (2) not being cared for (feeling depersonalized, having expectations that did not match recovery experiences, not being listened to, experiencing unprofessional behavior by care providers, experiencing continued care needs after going home), (3) physical needs unmet (sleep, pain, complications, physical environment), and (4) informational needs unmet (needing more or different information).

Conclusions Patients want nurses and doctors to provide a smooth transition to home, recognize the patients as individuals, prepare them honestly for their experiences with specific information, and manage pain and sleep.

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