Patient Diaries

To gather qualitative information about patients' experiences in order to help shape service improvements.

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How to do it

  • Participants use a diary to record their contact with services. The diaries are anonymous.
  • The diary material is collated into a report, focusing on the issues that emerge from users' experiences.
  • Other methods can be used to verify the issues raised in the diaries with everyone who uses a service or is affected by an issue.
  • Review learning regularly.


  • Think about how to use this method to make it accessible to excluded groups, e.g. stickers for people who do not want to, or who cannot, write.
  • Think about how participants will be selected.


  • This is a flexible method which can be adapted for use by people with disabilities or literacy problems.
  • This method is particularly useful where the group of service users completing diaries are in contact with several services or staff, as it can show how the services interact – or fail to – from the user's point of view.
  • It enables people to give a great deal of information, including information on sensitive matters, in a way that they can have control.
  • People completing the diaries are usually volunteers, e.g. from the relevant population of service users. This gives a strong commitment to completing the diaries.


  • The representativeness of the findings will depend on the quality of the recruitment process.


  • Staff time for recruitment, co-ordination, collation and report writing
  • Stationery

Top Tips

  • The length of time that the diary runs for will depend on the frequency with which the service user is in touch with the services and their individual circumstances. For example it has been found that 2-4 weeks was a good time for people with dementia and their carers who had daily contact with some services and monthly or less frequent contact with others.

Sources and Further Information

  • Phillips, C. (2006) "Use of patient diaries in critical care" Link opens in a new windowNursing Standard v26 (11), p35-43