Background: Medical practice and research are paying increasing attention to what patients want, as reflected by the growth of routine surveys of patients' satisfaction and more formal studies of patients' views of medical care. However, the field lacks conceptual clarity.
Objectives: The aim of this study was to propose a theoretical clarification of the concept of the patients' purpose of a consultation by presenting a patient-centred definition, applicable for clinical work and research in general practice.
Methods: An extensive literature review was conducted to explore presumptions and definitions reported by previous studies. Most authors failed to define or distinguish the concept under investigation. We took these shortcomings as our starting point, added some significant dimensions drawn from a few selected authors who had discussed relevant perspectives in their work and arrived at a proposed working definition of the 'purpose' concept.
Results: The proposed definition allows for multiple purposes for the consultation. We incorporate what the patient hopes to gain from the consultation, as opposed to their 'expectations of the most likely outcome'. Our working definition aims to identify patients' a priori wishes and hopes for a specific process and outcome, while acknowledging that these may not be voiced and may be modified by the patient during the consultation. General characteristics of the doctor, such as being considerate or professionally skillful, are not included.