Priority setting in health care: on the relation between reasonable choices on the micro-level and the macro-level

Theor Med Bioeth. 2008;29(2):87-102. doi: 10.1007/s11017-008-9063-3. Epub 2008 Jun 5.


There has been much discussion about how to obtain legitimacy at macro-level priority setting in health care by use of fair procedures, but how should we consider priority setting by individual clinicians or health workers at the micro-level? Despite the fact that just health care totally hinges upon their decisions, surprisingly little attention seems being paid to the legitimacy of these decisions. This paper addresses the following question: what are the conditions that have to be met in order to ensure that individual claims on health care are well aligned with an overall concept of just health care? Drawing upon a distinction between individual and aggregated needs, I argue that even though we assume the legitimacy of macro-level guidelines, this legitimacy is not directly transferable to decisions at micro-level simply by adherence to the guidelines' recommendation. Further, I argue that individual claims are subject to the formal principle of equality and the demands of vertical and horizontal equity in a way that gives context- and patient-related equity concerns precedence over equity concerns captured at the macro-level. I conclude that if we aim to achieve just health care, we need to develop a complementary framework for legitimising individual judgment of patients' claims on health care resources. Moreover, I suggest the basic structure of such a framework.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Decision Making*
  • Delivery of Health Care / standards
  • Guidelines as Topic
  • Health Care Rationing / standards*
  • Health Services Needs and Demand*
  • Humans
  • Norway
  • Practice Guidelines as Topic*
  • Social Justice*