Unravelling the concept of consumer preference: Implications for health policy and optimal planning in primary care
Accounting for consumer preference in health policy and delivery system design makes good economic sense since this is linked to outcomes, quality of care and cost control. Probability trade-off methods are commonly used in policy evaluation, marketing and economics. Increasingly applied to health matters, the trade-off preference model has indicated that consumers of health care discriminate between different attributes of care. However, the complexities of the health decision-making environment raise questions about the inherent assumptions concerning choice and decision-making behavior which frame this view of consumer preference. In this article, we use the example of primary care in Australia as a vehicle to examine the concept of 'consumer preference' from different perspectives within economics and discuss the significance of how we model preferences for health policy makers. In doing so, we question whether mainstream thinking, namely that consumers are capable of deliberating between rival strategies and are willing to make trade-offs, is a reliable way of thinking about preferences given the complexities of the health decision-making environment. Alternative perspectives on preference can assist health policy makers and health providers by generating more precise information about the important attributes of care that are likely to enhance consumer engagement and optimise acceptability of health care.
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