Aims: To explore patients' and relatives' perceptions of care and identify key criteria used to evaluate quality care, via descriptions of actual care experiences.
Method: A qualitative approach using Grounded Theory was adopted; data collected by semistructured interviews, from a purposive sample of 34 acute medical patients and 7 relatives, was subjected to question and thematic analysis.
Findings: The nature of the care provided and interpersonal aspects of caring emerged as key quality issues for patients. Good Quality Care was characterized as individualized, patient focused and related to need; it was provided humanistically, through the presence of a caring relationship by staff who demonstrated involvement, commitment and concern. Care described as 'Not so Good' was routine, unrelated to need and delivered in an impersonal manner, by distant staff who did not know or involve patients.
Conclusions: Empirical evidence was found which support these findings, which are in opposition of the received view that patients place greater emphasis on the technical aspects of care tasks. The quality issues identified as important by patients and relatives in this study are not always evaluated in care audits. Those responsible for evaluating health care quality might consider combining traditional (professional/technical) audit criteria with those used by health care users to achieve a more comprehensive evaluation.