BACKGROUND: Initiating outpatient therapy with ventricular assist devices (VAD) was important in the progress of mechanical circulatory support. This article reviews our experience with VAD therapy from the start of our outpatient program until the present. METHODS: Medical records of patients who received a Thoratec para-corporeal VAD, HeartMate vented electrical VAD, or HeartMate pneumatic VAD between 12/1/97 and 9/1/01 were reviewed. Variables included age, type of devices, total duration of VAD support, discharge status, duration of outpatient support, outcome (transplanted, died on support, ongoing), in-hospital length of stay after transplantation, and complications during VAD support. RESULTS: There were 53 device implants in 46 patients. The cumulative patient-days of VAD support was 7,468 (mean duration of support, 138 +/- 195 days; median, 95 days; range, 2 to 948 days). Twenty of the 46 patients were discharged with a VAD. The cumulative outpatient days was 3,600 (mean outpatient duration, 157 +/- 164 days; median, 83 days; maximum, 560 days). Of the 20 outpatients, 11 received cardiac transplantation, 5 died, and 4 are ongoing as of 9/1/01. Major complications that occurred in the outpatient setting included 5 deaths after hospital readmission (1 sepsis, 1 conduit tear, 3 neurologic events); 4 device infections (3 sepsis, 1 pouch infection); and 3 device malfunctions that required reoperation for pump replacement (1 HeartMate pneumatic and 2 HeartMate vented electrical). No deaths occurred in an outpatient setting. CONCLUSIONS: Ventricular assist devices effectively support outpatients for months to years. The anticipated time for postoperative recovery and VAD training before discharge is approximately 14 to 21 days, although shorter times may be possible in the future. Establishing a successful outpatient VAD program is a crucial step toward VAD as definitive therapy for end-stage heart disease.