Priority Setting and Rationing in Primary Health Care
Sammanfattning: Background: Studies on priority setting in primary health care are rare. Priority setting and rationing in primary health care is important because outcomes from primary health care have significant implications for health care costs and outcomes in the health system as a whole.Aims: The general aim of this thesis has been to study and analyse the prerequisites for priority setting in primary health care in Sweden. This was done by exploring strategies to handle scarce resources in Swedish routine primary health care (Paper I); analysing patients’ attitudes towards priority setting and rationing and patients’ satisfaction with the outcome of their contact with primary health care (Paper II); describing and analysing how general practitioners, nurses, and patients prioritised individual patients in routine primary health care, studying the association between three key priority setting criteria (severity of the health condition, patient benefit, and cost-effectiveness of the medical intervention) and the overall priority assigned by the general practitioners and nurses to individual patients (Paper III); and analysing how the staff, in their clinical practise, perceived the application of the three key priority setting criteria (Paper IV).Methods: Both qualitative (Paper I and IV) and quantitative (Paper II and III) methods were used. Paper I was an interview study with medical staff at 17 primary health care centres. The data for Paper II and Paper III were collected through questionnaires to patients and staff at four purposely selected health care centres during a 2-week period. Paper IV was a focus group study conducted with staff members who practiced priority setting in day-to-day care.Results: The process of coping with scarce resources was categorised as efforts aimed to avoid rationing, ad hoc rationing, or planned rationing. Patients had little understanding of the need for priority setting. Most of them did not experience any kind of rationing and most of those who did were satisfied with the outcome of their contact with primary health care. Patients, compared to medical staff, gave relatively higher priority to acute/minor conditions than to preventive check-ups for chronic conditions when prioritising individual patients in day-today primary health care. When applying the three priority setting criteria in day-to-day primary health care, the criteria largely influenced the overall prioritisation of each patient. General practitioners were most influenced by the expected cost-effectiveness of the intervention and nurses were most influenced by the severity of the condition. Staff perceived the criteria as relevant, but not sufficient. Three additional aspects to consider in priority setting in primary health care were identified, namely viewpoint (medical or patient’s), timeframe (now or later) and evidence level (group or individual).Conclusion: There appears to be a need for, and the potential to, introduce more consistent priority setting in primary health care. The characteristics of primary health care, such as the vast array of health problems, the large number of patients with vague symptoms, early stages of diseases, and combinations of diseases, induce both special possibilities and challenges.
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