The development of quality assurance programmes for psychiatric care has increased the interest in quality of care and accountability from the patient's perspective. The aims of this study were threefold. First, to map descriptive characteristics of ideal outpatient psychiatric care through open-ended patient interviews, using a sample of 94 psychiatric outpatients, second, to have another sample of 84 outpatients rank the importance of 57 treatment characteristics extracted from the qualitative analysis of the interviews, and third to make comparisons with a previously performed investigation on quality of care of psychiatric inpatients. Results of the content analysis showed that characteristics of ideal outpatient treatment could be classified in eight content categories: accessibility of care, treatment content, staff-patient relationship, continuity of care, staff's professionalism, patient information/co-influence, treatment environment and cost of care. Results from the patients' rating of the importance of treatment characteristics showed that patients put the highest emphasis on staff's empathetic qualities in being interested, understanding, listening and respecting patients. Comparisons with the previously studied inpatient sample, showed great similarities in what was considered important to reach a satisfactory care situation. It is concluded that in order to secure content validity of investigations of the quality of psychiatric care from the patient's perspective, effort should be put into including the areas of staff-patient relationship and patient information and co-influence.