The ‘How to …’ series focuses on how to do qualitative research. But how can qualitative research enhance patient care? This paper aims to support health care practitioners, educators and researchers who are interested in bridging the gap between research and practice (both clinical and educational), to guide improvements that can ultimately benefit patients. We present action research and The Change Laboratory method as two approaches that typically involve qualitative research and have potential to change practice, blending scientific inquiry with social action. These approaches establish close research–practice partnerships and help answer tricky ‘why’ and ‘how’ questions that may unlock deep insights to enhance learning and patient care. … how can qualitative research enhance patient care?.