OBJECTIVE To explore the collaborative care needs and preferences in primary care patients with multiple chronic illnesses. DESIGN Focus groups utilizing a series of open-ended questions elicited self-identified problems, experiences in communicating with providers, self-management needs, and preferences for monitoring and follow-up. Responses were organized and interpreted in light of the essential elements of collaborative care for chronic illness. SETTING AND PARTICIPANTS Sixty patients having two or more chronic illnesses at eight geographically dispersed primary care clinics within the Veterans Health Administration in the United States. RESULTS Identified problems included poor functioning, negative psychological reactions, negative effects on relationships and interference with work or leisure. Polypharmacy was a major concern. Problematic interactions with providers and the health care system were also mentioned, often in relation to specialty care and included incidents in which providers had ignored concerns or provided conflicting advice. Most participants, however, expressed overall satisfaction with their care and appreciation of their primary care physicians. Knowledge and skills deficits interfered with self-management. Participants were willing to use technology for monitoring or educational purposes if it did not preclude human contact, and were receptive to non-physician providers as long as they were used to augment, not eliminate, a physician's care. CONCLUSIONS Findings are consistent with the basic tenets of patient-centred, collaborative care, and suggested that health care can be organized and delivered to meet the complex needs of patients with multimorbidity.