Improved outcome of heart failure in response to medical therapy, coupled with a critical shortage of donor organs, makes it imperative to restrict heart transplantation to patients who are most disabled by heart failure and who are likely to derive the maximum benefit from transplantation. Hemodynamic and functional indexes of prognosis are helpful in identifying these patients. Stratification of ambulatory heart failure patients by objective criteria, such as peak exercise oxygen consumption, has improved ability to select appropriate adult patients for heart transplantation. Such patients will have a poor prognosis despite optimal medical therapy. When determining the impact of individual comorbid conditions on a patient's candidacy for heart transplantation, the detrimental effects of each condition on posttransplantation outcome should be weighed. Evaluation of patients with severe heart failure should be done by a multidisciplinary team that is expert in management of heart failure, performance of cardiac surgery in patients with low left ventricular ejection fraction, and transplantation. Potential heart transplant candidates should he reevaluated on a regular basis to assess continued need for transplantation. Long-term management of heart failure should include continuity of care by an experienced physician, optimal dosing in conventional therapy, and periodic reevaluation of left ventricular function and exercise capacity. The outcome of high-risk conventional cardiovascular surgery should be weighed against that of transplantation in patients with ischemic and valvular heart disease. Establishment of regional specialized heart failure centers may improve access to optimal medical therapy and new promising medical and surgical treatments for these patients as well as stimulate investigative efforts to accelerate progress in this critical area.