The role of patient-reported outcomes (PROs) in surgery evaluation is increasing. PROs include measures of health-related quality of life (HRQL), patient satisfaction and utility. It is hypothesized that they add to traditional end points by providing detailed assessment of the impact of surgery on patient well-being as well as assessing patient preferences. In addition, qualitative observations from in-depth or semistructured interviews, or focus groups provide data about patient experiences and views of surgery that may supplement standard outcomes and quantitative PROs. This type of detail may contribute to clinical decision-making and informed consent. It is essential, however, that PROs are valid and reliable, and that robust methodology is used in trials and other research settings to incorporate PROs in a clinical context. Future work focusing upon the role of PROs in surgical decision-making is needed, and there is a need to develop methods for communicating PROs to patients. In addition, evaluating surgery with qualitative approaches will add useful insights into how patients experience surgery. This review article focuses on evaluating surgery with measures of HRQL and the qualitative methods that may supplement quantitative outcomes.