A hand search of the original papers in seven medical journals over 5 years was conducted in order to identify those reporting qualitative research. A total of 210 papers were initially identified, of which 70 used qualitative methods of both data collection and analysis. These papers were evaluated by the researchers using a checklist which specified the criteria of good practice. Overall, 2% of the original papers published in the journals reported qualitative studies. Papers were more frequently positively assessed in terms of having clear aims, reporting research for which a qualitative approach was appropriate and describing their methods of data collection. Papers were less frequently positively assessed in relation to issued of data analysis such as validity, reliability and providing representative supporting evidence. It is concluded that the full potential of qualitative research has yet to be realized in the field of health care.