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Despite the widespread use of satisfaction surveys to obtain patients' views about health services, the validity and relevance of self-completion questionnaire surveys has been questioned. This paper reports on an exploratory, qualitative investigation into patients' perspectives on satisfaction and dissatisfaction with out-patient care. Eighty-one new referrals to two out-patient clinics were interviewed before and after their first consultation. Of this initial sample, 23 were interviewed again at their follow-up appointment and a further 10 were interviewed in depth at a location of their choice. The features of the service that drew appreciative comments when they were thought to be present, and criticism when they were felt to be lacking, were: humanity, efficiency, informativeness and continuity of communication. Examples of these features are discussed using patients' own words to illustrate their perspectives. The study demonstrates that unstructured approaches to service evaluation can be employed to develop services which are genuinely listening to their users' views.