Discrete choice experiment for eliciting preference for health services for patients with ALS and their informal caregivers

Background: Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) is a progressive neurodegenerative condition with a mean life expectancy of 3 years from first symptom. Understanding the factors that are important to both patients and their caregivers has the potential to enhance service delivery and engagement, and improve efficiency. The Discrete Choice Experiment (DCE) is a stated preferences method which asks service users to make trade-offs for various attributes of health services. This method is used to quantify preferences and shows the relative importance of the attributes in the experiment, to the service user.

Methods: A DCE with nine choice sets was developed to measure the preferences for health services of ALS patients and their caregivers and the relative importance of various aspects of care, such as timing of care, availability of services, and decision making. The DCE was presented to patients with ALS, and their caregivers, recruited from a national multidisciplinary clinic. A random effects probit model was applied to estimate the impact of each attribute on a participant's choice.

Results: Patients demonstrated the strongest preferences about timing of receiving information about ALS. A strong preference was also placed on seeing the hospice care team later rather than early on in the illness. Patients also indicated their willingness to consider the use of communication devices. Grouping by stage of disease, patients who were in earlier stages of disease showed a strong preference for receipt of extensive information about ALS at the time of diagnosis. Caregivers showed a strong preference for engagement with healthcare professionals, an attribute that was not prioritised by patients.

Conclusions: The DCE method can be useful in uncovering priorities of patients and caregivers with ALS. Patients and caregivers have different priorities relating to health services and the provision of care in ALS, and patient preferences differ based on the stage and duration of their illness. Multidisciplinary teams must calibrate the delivery of care in the context of the differing expectations, needs and priorities of the patient/caregiver dyad.

Keywords: Amyotrophic Lateral sclerosis; Caregiver preference; Discrete choice experiment; Health services; Patient preference.