BACKGROUND: Much has been achieved in implementing structured outpatient cardiac rehabilitation (CR) programs in Victoria, Australia, but little is known about the percentage of eligible patients who participate. This study was undertaken to determine the feasibility of establishing a database of CR participants and comparing it to the Victorian Inpatient Minimum Database (VIMD), a routinely collected hospital morbidity data set documenting all admissions to Victorian public and private hospitals. This would enable program participants and nonparticipants to be identified and program participation rates to be calculated. METHODS: Data on program participants were collected from a sample of eight CR programs. Records from the VIMD were extracted for the concurrent time period for patients discharged home after acute myocardial infarction (AMI), coronary artery bypass graft (CABG) surgery, and percutaneous transluminal coronary angioplasty (PTCA), and therefore considered eligible to participate. Victorian Inpatient Minimum Database data were aggregated according to program catchment areas. Data were compared for program participants and patients eligible to participate. RESULTS: Seven hundred fifty-eight patients were identified as being eligible to attend; 240 (32%) were identified as participating at least once. Discharged CABG patients participated on average at a rate of 53.1%, compared with 27.2% of AMI patients and only 10.3% of PTCA patients. CONCLUSIONS: Despite a comprehensive network of CR programs in Victoria, they are used on average by only a minority of eligible patients. Further work is required to determine barriers to participation to develop strategies to increase participation rates.