Although important to users, practice standards rarely incorporate users' views of care provided. These views are a valuable source of information, even though there are limits to their value. To improve the standards of care in a 20 bed hospital elderly care unit caring for acute medical conditions a qualitative approach was used. Patients' and carers' perceptions of care and problems with the process of care in the unit were elicited with a specially designed semistructured interview schedule in 83 separate tape recorded interviews with a research nurse in patients' homes. In all, 50 patients and 35 carers were interviewed between 6 June 1991 and 28 May 1992. Of the 50 patients, 33 were female; seven patients were aged less than 80 years, 16, 80-85; 21, 86-90; and six over 90. A total of 16 patients lived with spouses or other carers, two with non-carers, and 32 lived alone, 18 of whom received informal care. Content analysis of the interviews disclosed patients' and carers' general satisfaction with individualised professional care and planning of follow up services on discharge but dissatisfaction in the lack of information about and involvement in treatment and care and about specific staff notes. These findings have prompted remedial changes in clinical practice in the unit; they have also formed the structure of a criterion based survey of practice. The authors conclude that the qualitative approach suited elderly users and also provided the basis for the findings to be incorporated into a continuous audit cycle through a process of feedback and standard setting.
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