• chronic conditions;
  • clinical engagement;
  • consultation;
  • ethnic minority;
  • powerlessness;
  • primary health care



Primary health care does not adequately respond to populations known to have high needs such as those with compounding jeopardy from chronic conditions, poverty, minority status and age; as such populations report powerlessness.


To explore what poor older adults with chronic conditions who mostly belong to ethnic minority groups say they want from clinicians.

Setting and Participants

Participants were older adults whose chronic conditions were severe enough to require hospital admission more than twice in the previous 12 months. All participants lived in poor localities in Auckland, New Zealand's largest city.


Forty-two in-depth interviews were conducted and analysed using qualitative description.


An outward acceptance of health care belied an underlying dissatisfaction with low engagement. Participants did not feel heard and wanted information conveyed in a way that indicated clinicians understood them in the context of their lives. Powerlessness, anger, frustration and non-concordance were frequent responses.

Discussion and Conclusions

Despite socio-cultural and disease-related complexity, patients pursue the (unrealised) ideal of an engaged therapeutic relationship with an understanding clinician. Powerlessness means that the onus is upon the health system and the clinician to engage. Engagement means building a relationship on the basis of social, cultural and clinical knowledge and demonstrating a shift in the way clinicians choose to think and interact in patient care. Respectful listening and questioning can deepen clinicians' awareness of patients' most important concerns. Enabling patients to direct the consultation is a way to integrate clinician expertise with what patients need and value.