A newly developed, flow-directed, Doppler pulmonary artery catheter that uses multiple ultrasonic transducers to measure instantaneous and continuous cardiac output was evaluated in 20 patients undergoing cardiac and vascular surgical procedures. Cardiac output was determined using the product of the average velocity and the area of the main pulmonary artery. Pulmonary artery area was obtained from measurements of diameter via ultrasound transit time, and average velocity of blood flow was determined from the Doppler shift frequency. Two hundred thirty-eight simultaneous Doppler catheter and thermodilution cardiac output measurements were obtained preoperatively, intraoperatively, and during postoperative recovery. Catheter indwelling time varied from 18 through 94 hours (mean +/- SD, 40 +/- 19 hours) with 2 to 26 (mean +/- SD, 12 +/- 6) sets of triplicate cardiac output measurements obtained per patient. Doppler catheter cardiac output correlated well with thermodilution (r = 0.76, slope or m = 0.87, and SEE = 0.05 with P = 0.0001) and mean predictive error (bias) appeared clinically insignificant (bias +/- SD, -0.13 +/- 0.79 L/min). Accurate, continuous monitoring of instantaneous and mean cardiac output appears possible with use of this Doppler pulmonary artery catheter system.