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Objective: To identify the main mechanisms of heart failure ( HF ) disease management programmes based in hospitals, homes or the community. Methods: Systematic review of qualitative and quantitative studies using realist synthesis. The search strategy incorporated general and specific terms relevant to the research question: HF, self-care and programmes/interventions for HF patients. To be included, papers had to be published in English after 1995 ( due to changes in HF care over recent years ) to May 2014 and contain specific data related to mechanisms of effect of HF programmes. 10 databases were searched; grey literature was located via Proquest Dissertations and Theses, Google and publications from organisations focused on HF or self-care. Results: 33 studies ( n=3355 participants, mean age: 65 years, 35% women ) were identified ( 18 randomised controlled trials, three mixed methods studies, six pre-test post-test studies and six qualitative studies ). The main mechanisms identified in the studies were associated with increased patient understanding of HF and its links to self-care, greater involvement of other people in this self-care, increased psychosocial well-being and support from health professionals to use technology. Conclusion: Future HF disease management programmes should seek to harness the main mechanisms through which programmes actually work to improve HF self-care and outcomes, rather than simply replicating components from other programmes. The most promising mechanisms to harness are associated with increased patient understanding and self-efficacy, involvement of other caregivers and health professionals and improving psychosocial well-being and technology use.

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