This paper reviews the results of a two-phase study of patient satisfaction with surgical services. Phase one adopted a qualitative approach using interviews and observation of surgeons and patients. Phase two was based on a questionnaire survey using questions generated by the qualitative study. Selected data reported here focus on the principal areas of concern for surgical patients and the importance of a patient's medical condition in accounts of satisfaction with care. The results reveal the importance of interview data as a means to explain the meanings behind questionnaire responses. However, where personal accounts are not sustained statistically, it may be necessary to reconsider the assumption that such methodologies may simply be “triangulated” to elicit an identical patient perspective and agenda. This is important in view of the fact that health research is increasingly reliant on standardized measures of quality-of-life, symptom-scoring and patient satisfaction, all of which use questionnaires whose claim to validity is their equivalence to the results of prior interviewing. Copyright © 1996 Elsevier Science Ltd.