Eliciting public preferences for healthcare: a systematic review of techniques

Health Technol Assess. 2001;5(5):1-186. doi: 10.3310/hta5050.


Background: Limited resources coupled with unlimited demand for healthcare mean that decisions have to be made regarding the allocation of scarce resources across competing interventions. Policy documents have advocated the importance of public views as one such criterion. In principle, the elicitation of public values represents a big step forward. However, for the exercise to be worthwhile, useful information must be obtained that is scientifically defensible, whilst decision-makers must be able and willing to use it.

Aims and objectives: The aim was to identify techniques that could be reasonably used to elicit public views on the provision of healthcare. Hence, the objectives were: (1) to identify research methods with the potential to take account of public views on the delivery of healthcare; (2) to identify criteria for assessing these methods; (3) to assess the methods identified according to the predefined criteria; (4) to assess the importance of public views vis-à-vis other criteria for setting priorities, as judged by a sample of decision-makers; (5) to make recommendations regarding the use of methods and future research.

Methods: A systematic literature review was carried out to identify methods for eliciting public views. Criteria currently used to evaluate such methods were identified. The methods identified were then evaluated according to predefined criteria. A questionnaire-based survey assessed the relative importance of public views vis-à-vis five other criteria for setting priorities: potential health gain; evidence of clinical effectiveness; budgetary impact; equity of access and health status inequalities; and quality of service. Two techniques were used: choice-based conjoint analysis and allocation of points technique. The questionnaire was sent to 143 participants. A subsample was followed up with a telephone interview.

Results: The methods identified were classified as quantitative or qualitative. RESULTS - QUANTITATIVE TECHNIQUES: Quantitative techniques, classified as ranking, rating or choice-based approaches, were evaluated according to eight criteria: validity; reproducibility; internal consistency; acceptability to respondents; cost (financial and administrative); theoretical basis; whether the technique offered a constrained choice; and whether the technique provided a strength of preference measure. Regarding ranking exercises, simple ranking exercises have proved popular, but their results are of limited use. The qualitative discriminant process has not been used to date in healthcare, but may be useful. Conjoint analysis ranking exercises did well against the above criteria. A number of rating scales were identified. The visual analogue scale has proved popular within the quality-adjusted life-year paradigm, but lacks constrained choice and may not measure strength of preference. However, conjoint analysis rating scales performed well. Methods identified for eliciting attitudes include Likert scales, the semantic differential technique, and the Guttman scale. These methods provide useful information, but do not consider strength of preference or the importance of different components within a total score. Satisfaction surveys have been frequently used to elicit public opinion. Researchers should ensure that they construct sensitive techniques, despite their limited use, or else use generic techniques where validity has already been established. Service quality (SERVQUAL) appears to be a potentially useful technique and its application should be researched. Three choice-based techniques with a limited application in healthcare are measure of value, the analytical hierarchical process and the allocation of points technique, while those more widely used, and which did well against the predefined criteria, include standard gamble, time trade-off, discrete choice conjoint analysis and willingness to pay. Little methodological work is currently available on the person trade-off. RESULTS - QUALITATIVE TECHNIQUES: Qualitative techniques were classified as either individual or group-based approaches. Individual approaches included one-to-one interviews, dyadic interviews, case study analyses, the Delphi technique and complaints procedures. Group-based methods included focus groups, concept mapping, citizens' juries, consensus panels, public meetings and nominal group techniques. Six assessment criteria were identified: validity; reliability; generalisability; objectivity; acceptability to respondents; and cost. Whilst all the methods have distinct strengths and weaknesses, there is a lot of ambiguity in the literature. Whether to use individual or group methods depends on the specific topic being discussed and the people being asked, but for both it is crucial that the interviewer/moderator remains as objective as possible. The most popular and widely used such methods were one-to-one interviews and focus groups. (ABSTRACT TRUNCATED)

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Data Collection / methods
  • Delivery of Health Care / organization & administration*
  • Health Priorities*
  • Health Services Research / methods*
  • Humans
  • Patient Satisfaction*
  • Public Opinion*
  • United Kingdom