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BACKGROUND: Despite interest in the relationship between patient satisfaction and consultation performance, there is little information about how other characteristics of general practitioners, practices and patients influence satisfaction with consultations. AIM: To identify characteristics of patients, practices and general practitioners that influence satisfaction with consultations. METHOD: In 1991-92, a consultation satisfaction questionnaire (CSQ) was administered to 75 patients attending each of the 126 general practitioners in 39 practices. Further questionnaires were used to collect information about the practice (such as total list size, training status, fundholding status and presence of a personal list system) and about the general practitioners (age, sex, whether vocationally trained, a trainer or a trainee, and the number of patients booked in the appointment system per hour). Stepwise multiple regression was undertaken to identify characteristics of patients, practices or general practitioners that influenced satisfaction. RESULTS: The mean of the response rates to the patient questionnaire for each general practitioner was 76.6%, with a standard deviation (SD) of 17.8. Practice characteristics associated with falls in satisfaction were an increasing total list size, the absence of a personal list system and its being a training practice. If more patients were booked in the appointment system per hour, satisfaction with the perceived length of consultations fell. Patient characteristics associated with falls in satisfaction were increased age and an increased proportion of male patients. The only characteristic of general practitioners associated with lower levels of satisfaction was increasing age. The sex of general practitioners did not influence satisfaction. CONCLUSIONS: The findings of this study give further support to the importance of a personal service in determining patient satisfaction in general practice. General Practitioners need to review the organization of practices to ensure an acceptable balance between the requirements of modern clinical care and the wishes of patients. Future studies should take account of the many variables that can influence patient satisfaction.