Focus groups are enjoying unprecedented popularity. In this article, the advantages and disadvantages of the method are outlined with cautions against the uncritical adoption of focus groups designed according to the marketing research tradition. It is argued that focus groups require detailed planning, and some advice regarding the running of groups, and analysis of data is provided. Special attention is directed to the practical and ethical issues in using focus groups to define patient needs in the area of childhood inflammatory bowel disease. Finally, some suggestions for maximising the full potential of focus groups are presented. Focus groups, if used appropriately and judiciously, are an inherently flexible method. Ultimately, their use is constrained only by the research question and the imagination of the researcher.