Background: Previous studies have suggested that people favor allocating resources to severely ill patients even when they benefit less from treatment than do less severely ill patients. This study explores the stability of people's preferences for treating severely ill patients.
Methods: This study surveyed prospective jurors in Philadelphia and asked them to decide how they would allocate scarce health care resources between a severely ill group of patients who would improve a little with treatment and moderately ill patients who would improve considerably with treatment. Subjects were randomized to receive one of six questionnaire versions, which altered the wording of the scenarios and altered whether subjects were given an explicit option of dividing resources evenly between the two groups of patients.
Results: Four hundred and seventy nine subjects completed surveys. The preference subjects placed on allocating resources to severely ill patients depended on relatively minor wording changes in the scenarios. In addition, when given the explicit option of dividing resources evenly between the two groups of patients, the majority of subjects chose to do so.
Conclusion: People's preferences for allocating resources to severely ill patients can be significantly decreased by subtle wording changes in scenarios. However, this study adds to evidence suggesting that many people place priority on allocating resources to severely ill patients, even when they would benefit less from treatment than others.