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BACKGROUND: Published research offers clear pointers to the management of heart failure; however, the evidence for implementation into practice is sub-optimal. AIM: To identify the salient barriers to adopting evidence-based management of heart failure in the community. METHOD: Structured interviews were used to elicit the views of a stratified sample of 100 general practitioners (GPs) about the diagnosis and treatment of heart failure. Responses to three heart failure case scenarios provided an indication of the degree to which GPs' knowledge of heart failure and trial results might be applied to diagnosis and treatment intentions. RESULTS: Participants were generally well aware of clinical trials that showed that prognosis could be improved by treatment, but trial results appeared to have little influence on treatment intentions in the three case scenarios. The major barriers to optimum management were the difficulties of differential diagnosis and the perceived properties of angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors (ACE-I) relative to diuretics. In the case scenarios, less than 30% reported that they would undertake basic investigations, such as chest X-ray or haemoglobin, or prescribe ACE-I. Over 70% perceived diuretics to be a useful diagnostic tool. The most frequent reasons for not prescribing ACE-I were the perceived inconvenience and risks of adverse effects (41%) and the view that most patients can be managed successfully on diuretics alone (27%). Over two-thirds of the sample were dissatisfied with the quality of information accompanying heart failure patients discharged from hospital. CONCLUSION: Facilitating evidence-based management of heart failure in the community requires further support for GPs in the form of additional training in the diagnosis of heart failure and the optimum use of both ACE-I and diuretics, and by improved communication between GPs and hospital doctors on a case-by-case basis.