The Australian public's preferences for emergency care alternatives and the influence of the presenting context: a discrete choice experiment

Paul Harris, Jennifer A. Whitty, Elizabeth Kendall, Julie Ratcliffe, Andrew Wilson, Peter Littlejohns, Paul A. Scuffham

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Objectives The current study seeks to quantify the Australian public's preferences for emergency care alternatives and determine if preferences differ depending on presenting circumstances.

Setting Increasing presentations to emergency departments have led to overcrowding, long waiting times and suboptimal health system performance. Accordingly, new service models involving the provision of care in alternative settings and delivered by other practitioners continue to be developed.

Participants A stratified sample of Australian adults (n=1838), 1382 from Queensland and 456 from South Australia, completed the survey. This included 951 females and 887 males from the 2045 people who met the screening criteria out of the 4354 people who accepted the survey invitation.

Interventions A discrete choice experiment was used to elicit preferences in the context of one of four hypothetical scenarios: a possible concussion, a rash/asthma-related problem involving oneself or one's child and an anxiety-related presentation. Mixed logit regression was used to analyse the dependent variable choice and identify the relative importance of care attributes and the propensity to access care in each context.

Results Results indicated a preference for treatment by an emergency physician in hospital for possible concussion and treatment by a doctor in ambulatory settings for rash/asthma-related and anxiety-related problems. Participants were consistently willing to wait longer before making trade-offs in the context of the rash/asthma-related scenario compared with when the same problem affected their child. Results suggest a clear preference for lower costs, shorter wait times and strong emphasis on quality care; however, significant preference heterogeneity was observed.

Conclusions This study has increased awareness that the public's emergency care choices will differ depending on the presenting context. It has further demonstrated the importance of service quality as a determinant of healthcare choices. The findings have also provided insights into the Australian public's reactions to emergency care reforms.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere006820
JournalBMJ Open
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 3 Apr 2015

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