Are physicians willing to ration health care? Conflicting findings in a systematic review of survey research

Health Policy. 2009 May;90(2-3):113-24. doi: 10.1016/j.healthpol.2008.10.013. Epub 2008 Dec 13.


Background: Several quantitative surveys have been conducted internationally to gather empirical information about physicians' general attitudes towards health care rationing. Are physicians ready to accept and implement rationing, or are they rather reluctant? Do they prefer implicit bedside rationing that allows the physician-patient relationship broad leeway in individual decisions? Or do physicians prefer strategies that apply explicit criteria and rules?

Objectives: To analyse the range of survey findings on rationing. To discuss differences in response patterns. To provide recommendations for the enhancement of transparency and systematic conduct in reviewing survey literature.

Methods: A systematic search was performed for all English and non-English language references using CINAHL, EMBASE, and MEDLINE. Three blinded experts independently evaluated title and abstract of each reference. Survey items were extracted that match with: (i) willingness to ration health care or (ii) preferences for different rationing strategies.

Results: 16 studies were eventually included in the systematic review. Percentages of respondents willing to accept rationing ranged from 94% to 9%.

Conclusions: The conflicting findings among studies illustrate important ambivalence in physicians that has several implications for health policy. Moreover, this review highlights the importance to interpret survey findings in context of the results of all previous relevant studies.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Attitude of Health Personnel*
  • Health Care Rationing*
  • Health Services Research
  • Humans
  • Physicians / psychology*