“They made me feel comfortable”: a comparison of methods to measure patient experience in a sexual health clinic

Howarth, Alison R.; Day, Sophie E.; Greene, Linda and Ward, Helen. 2017. “They made me feel comfortable”: a comparison of methods to measure patient experience in a sexual health clinic. BMC Health Services Research, 17(325), [Article]

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Abstract or Description


High quality sexual health services are needed to improve both individual and public health outcomes. This study set out to explore what is important to patients who visit a sexual health clinic, and examine their understanding of standard survey questions, in order to inform the collection and interpretation of patient experience data that are used to improve services.


We conducted a cross-sectional, qualitative study. In the first part of the interview, we used “discovery interviews” to explore patients’ experiences of attending a central London walk-in sexual health clinic. In the second part, we asked patients how they would respond to eight standard patient experience survey questions and to provide an explanation for each of their responses. We conducted a thematic analysis of the interview data.


We interviewed seventeen participants (nine women, eight men) of different ethnicities and backgrounds. All interviewees were positive about their experience. They described how staff had made them feel “comfortable”, and talked about how staff spent time, listened and did not rush them, despite being a very busy clinic.

In response to the survey questions, fourteen patients rated their as care excellent or very good overall. However, survey questions were interpreted in different ways and were not always easily understood.


The open-ended “discovery interviews” provided new insights into aspects of care that were most valued or could improve. Standard patient experience questions provide a rating but little elucidation of the experiences that lie behind patients’ responses. They do not always measure aspects of care valued by patients or identify areas for improvement. They are not uniformly understood and necessarily collapse a wide range of experiences and views into categories that may seem inappropriate. Qualitative methods have a key role in measuring patient experience and involving patients in service improvement.

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Health services research, Service delivery, Patient experience, Research methodology, Qualitative research

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25 April 2017Accepted
5 May 2017Published

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Date Deposited:

01 Oct 2019 13:13

Last Modified:

13 Jun 2021 09:11

Peer Reviewed:

Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.



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