Background. The dominant epistemology underpinning much inquiry in the field of patient evaluation of health care is positivist, with categorization and quantification being high priorities, despite the highly personal and dynamic nature of people's responses to their health care experiences. The mis-match between underpinning theoretical assumptions and the nature of the subject under investigation has led to ineffectiveness in much current inquiry into patients’ perspectives. More needs to be learnt about patients’ processes of evaluation prior to any summary assessment of the quality of their care.
Aims. This paper documents the search for a close fit between a study's research questions and a theoretical perspective with which to underpin the research. It describes the benefits of identifying a specifically relevant perspective, in this case phenomenological sociology, and discusses the potential of that particular perspective to underpin research within health care.
Methods. Research questions relating to patients’ processes of evaluation were established. The possible contribution of a range of interpretative methodologies was considered. While all were relevant to some degree, phenomenological sociology was identified as having considerable specific potential to illuminate the patient's process of evaluation.
Findings. The particular strengths of phenomenological sociology relevant to the investigation of patients’ processes of reflection are in highlighting the importance of subjectivity; its insistence on a clear link from theoretical development right back to the raw data; its wealth of evocative ideas and concepts that support the investigation of the development of interpretation; and the relatively accessible language and style of its texts.
Conclusion. Time spent evaluating the potential contribution of different theoretical perspectives to a study is worthwhile, as a good choice can not only support but also enhance the quality of the research. Phenomenological sociology has much potential to underpin research into patient evaluation of health care and in nursing research more widely.