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Use of discrete choice experiments to elicit preferences
  1. M Ryan, MRC senior research fellow and reader in health economics1,
  2. A Bate, research assistant1,
  3. C J Eastmond, consultant rheumatologist2,
  4. A Ludbrook, senior research fellow1
  1. Health Economics Research Unit, University of Aberdeen, Foresterhill, Aberdeen AB25 2ZD, UK
  2. Department of Rheumatology, University of Aberdeen
  1. Dr M Ryan m.ryan{at}


This paper considers the application of discrete choice experiments for eliciting preferences in the delivery of health care. Drawing upon the results from a recently completed systematic review, the paper summarises the application of this technique in health care. It then presents a case study applying the technique to rheumatology outpatient clinics. 200 patients were questioned about the importance of six attributes: staff seen (junior doctor or specialist nurse); time in waiting area; continuity of contact with same staff; provision of a phone-in/advice service; length of consultation; and change in pain levels. The systematic review indicated that discrete choice experiments have been applied to a wide number of areas and a number of methodological issues have been addressed. Consistent with this literature, the case study found evidence of both rationality and theoretical validity of responses. The approach was used to establish the relative importance of different attributes, how individuals trade between these attributes, and overall benefit scores for different clinic configurations. The value of attributes was estimated in terms of time, and this was converted to a monetary measure using the value of waiting time for public transport. Discrete choice experiments represent a potentially useful instrument for eliciting preferences. Future methodological work should explore issues related to the experimental design of the study, methods of data collection and analysis, and satisfaction with the economic axioms of the instrument. Collaborative work with psychologists and qualitative researchers will prove useful in this research agenda.

  • discrete choice experiments
  • patient preference
  • decision making
  • patient-caregiver communication
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