Ordinal preference elicitation methods in health economics and health services research: using discrete choice experiments and ranking methods

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IntroductionThe predominant method of economic evaluation is cost-utility analysis, which uses cardinal preference elicitation methods, including the standard gamble and time trade-off. However, such approach is not suitable for understanding trade-offs between process attributes, non-health outcomes and health outcomes to evaluate current practices, develop new programmes and predict demand for services and products. Ordinal preference elicitation methods including discrete choice experiments and ranking methods are therefore commonly used in health economics and health service research.Areas of agreementCardinal methods have been criticized on the grounds of cognitive complexity, difficulty of administration, contamination by risk and preference attitudes, and potential violation of underlying assumptions. Ordinal methods have gained popularity because of reduced cognitive burden, lower degree of abstract reasoning, reduced measurement error, ease of administration and ability to use both health and non-health outcomes.Areas of controversyThe underlying assumptions of ordinal methods may be violated when respondents use cognitive shortcuts, or cannot comprehend the ordinal task or interpret attributes and levels, or use 'irrational' choice behaviour or refuse to trade-off certain attributes.Current use and growing areasOrdinal methods are commonly used to evaluate preference for attributes of health services, products, practices, interventions, policies and, more recently, to estimate utility weights.Areas for on-going researchThere is growing research on developing optimal designs, evaluating the rationalization process, using qualitative tools for developing ordinal methods, evaluating consistency with utility theory, appropriate statistical methods for analysis, generalizability of results and comparing ordinal methods against each other and with cardinal measures.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)21-44
Number of pages24
JournalBritish Medical Bulletin
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2012

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