Patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease are often referred to pulmonary rehabilitation programs to manage their symptoms and the consequences of the disease on their lives. Finding ways to target programs to a specific patient's needs could help improve individual response to the program. The purpose of this study was to develop a conceptual model for the assessment of patients' rehabilitation needs by using a grounded theory approach. Focus groups, consultations of medical charts, and a literature review helped us develop a conceptual model characterized by the following categories: need recognition, knowledge, motivation, expectations, goals, ability to fulfill needs, and the ability for personal adjustment. Based on a content matrix reflecting the conceptual model and disease consequences, items to be included in a prototype instrument were formulated and a preliminary validation phase was conducted.