Patients Emotions during Meal Experience: Understanding through Critical Incident Technique

Document Type : Research Paper


1 Dietetics Department, School of Health Sciences, Health Campus, Universiti Sains Malaysia, Kelantan, Malaysia

2 Faculty of Business, Economics and Law, School of Hospitality and Tourism Management, University of Surrey, Surrey, United Kingdom


Background and Objectives: It was established that eating experience may affect patients emotionally. Acknowledging the role and understanding the basis of patients’ emotions in their food consumption may assist in identifying their nutritional status as well as their satisfaction with foodservice. To date, there are limited studies focusing on patients’ food-related emotional experiences. Hence the present study sought to explore the issue using a qualitative approach.
Methods: The study was conducted in three Malaysian public hospitals, two of which from rural and one from urban areas. Information about aspects of the hospital food experience was gathered using semi-structured interview method. A total of 29 patients who felt well enough to provide information about the hospital food were identified with the help of the head nurses. Patients were recruited based on the concept of data saturation. The interview was implemented based on Critical Incident Technique (CIT), which enables systematic extraction of information from the wealth of data in the stories told by the interviewees about things which have happened to them. Data were analysed using content analysis method.
Findings: Patients were found toexperience emotions including frustration, interest, enjoyment, hostility, shame, boredom, sadness, anger, surprise and satisfaction in relation to food provision. The frequency of incidents eliciting negative emotions (56.7%) was higher than that of positive incidents (43.3%). Frustration, interest, and enjoyment were the most frequently reported emotions.
Conclusions: Our study highlights emotion as an important aspect of patients’ food consumption, and lays a ground for incorporation of food-related emotion into hospital services and patient management research. Our study also indicated the CIT to be effective and credible in elucidating hidden patients’ emotions, which encourages its application in future relevant studies.