What Patients Remember: A Content Analysis of Critical Incidents in Health Care

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This study reports on a survey of 3,868 patients at six health care institutions. I addressed the following questions: How do patients conceptualize, represent, and evaluate health care encounters? What themes from health care encounters are salient to patients? What role do communication factors play in patients’ conceptualizations, representations, and assessments of health care encounters? Former patients were surveyed and asked to recall and describe their most memorable experience. Presented is the result of a content analysis of 1,125 critical incident descriptions. Responses were classified into six categories based on whether they were related to: (a) clinical/technical facets of the treatment, (b) institutional policies and procedures, (c) facilities and accommodations, (d) personal treatment/caregiver interpersonal communication, (e) quality/quantity of information provided, or (f) other. Across the six institutions, personal treatment/caregiver interpersonal communication was the primary theme of recounted critical incidents, accounting for 46.7% of all responses. In five of the six populations studied, the clinical/technical category ranked second, accounting overall for 27.0% of reported experiences. Facilities and accommodations accounted for 7.3% of the experiences reported, institutional policies and procedures for 9.4%, and quality/quantity of information for 5.8%. Implications are discussed in terms the centrality of interpersonal communication and relationships, and in terms of assessments of health care quality.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)99-112
Number of pages14
JournalHealth Communication
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 1993

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Health(social science)
  • Communication


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