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Open Access Research article

A qualitative study of patients' views on quality of primary care consultations in Hong Kong and comparison with the UK CARE Measure

Colman SC Fung1 and Stewart W Mercer12*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Community and Family Medicine and School of Public Health, Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, PR China

2 General Practice and Primary Care, Division of Community-based Sciences, Faculty of Medicine, University of Glasgow, 1 Horselethill Road, Glasgow, G12 9LX, UK

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BMC Family Practice 2009, 10:10  doi:10.1186/1471-2296-10-10

Published: 27 January 2009



Patients' priorities and views on quality care are well-documented in Western countries but there is a dearth of research in this area in the East. The aim of the present study was to explore Chinese patients' views on quality of primary care consultations in Hong Kong and to compare these with the items in the CARE measure (a process measure of consultation quality widely used in the UK) in order to assess the potential utility of the CARE measure in a Chinese population.


Individual semi-structured interviews were conducted on 21 adult patients from 3 different primary care clinics (a public primary healthcare clinic, a University health centre, and a private family physician's clinic). Topics discussed included expectations, experiences, and views about quality of medical consultations. Interviews were typed verbatim, and a thematic approach was taken to identify key issues. These identified issues were then compared with the ten CARE measure items, using a CARE framework: Connecting (Care Measure items 1–3), Assessing (item 4), Responding (items 5,6), and Empowering (items 7–10).


Patients judged doctors in terms of both the process of the consultation and the perceived outcomes. Themes identified that related to the interpersonal process of the consultation fitted well under the CARE framework; Connecting and communicating (18/21 patients), Assessing holistically (10/21 patients), Responding (18/21 patients) and Empowering (19/21 patients). Patients from the public clinic, who were generally of lower socio-economic status, were least likely to expect holistic care or empowerment. Two-thirds of patients also judged doctors on whether they performed an adequate physical examination, and three-quarters on the later outcomes of consultation (in terms of relief or cure and/or side-effects of prescribed drugs).


These findings suggest that Chinese patients in Hong Kong value engaged, empathic primary care doctors and judge the quality of consultations largely on these human skills and the attitudes and values that underpin them, as well as on the perceived outcomes of treatment. The match between themes relating to consultation process and the CARE Measure items suggests utility of this measure in this population, but further quantitative validation is required.