A discrete choice experiment is a quantitative method increasingly used in healthcare to elicit preferences from participants (e.g. patients, payers, commissioners) without directly asking them to state their preferred options. In a DCE, participants are typically presented with a series of alternative hypothetical scenarios containing a number of variables or “attributes” (usually ≤5), each of which may have a number of variations or “levels”. Participants are asked to state their preferred choice between 2 or 3 competing scenarios, each of which consists of a combination of these attributes/levels. Typically survey instruments include 5-10 of such choices to be completed. Preferences are revealed without participants explicitly being asked to state their preferred level for each individual attribute.
For example, a pharmaceutical company might be interested in determining patient preferences for a painkiller provided either as a tablet or liquid formulation. Attributes and levels tested in a DCE might consist of “time for painkiller to work” (e.g. <10 minutes, 10-30 minutes, >30 minutes), “convenience” (e.g. inconvenient, convenient) and “number of repeat doses required” (e.g. 0, 1-2, ≥3). Examples of the use of DCEs in healthcare evaluation include assessment of patient preferences for diagnostic services, clinic configurations or different routes of administration for medicines.
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