Patient diaries

Patient diaries

A patient diary is a way to gather qualitative information about people's experience of using health (and care) services in order to help shape service improvements.

  • Time to do: 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.
  • Staff: Staff to recruit patients to participate and to collate information from each diary.
  • Cost: £
  • Equipment: depends on how you want people to record their diaries. For photos, audio and video you may need to supply participants with devices
  • one-to-one
  • at a distance

How to do it

  • Give participants a diary to record their experience of using services. The diaries are anonymous.
  • Collate diary material into a report, focusing on the issues that emerge from users' experiences.
  • Other methods - such as comment cards and focus groups - 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.


Diaries can be as simple as a plain notebook or sheets of paper with question prompts. Creative methods can make for more engaging feedback, including photographs, audio recordings or short videos.


  • A flexible method which can be adapted for use by people with disabilities or literacy problems.
  • Particularly useful where the people completing the diaries are in contact with several services or staff, as it can show how the services interact from a service user's point of view.
  • Allows people to give a great deal of information, including information on sensitive matters, in a way that they can control.
  • People completing the diaries are usually volunteers 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.
  • Relies on participants completing the diary over a period of time.

More information

  • Phillips, C. (2006) "Use of patient diaries in critical care" Nursing Standard v26 (11), p35-43 
Last Updated: 29 September 2021