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Population Preferences for Treatments When Critically Ill: A Discrete Choice Experiment



Many patients in the intensive care unit are too unwell to participate in shared decision making or have not previously documented their wishes. In these situations, understanding the values of the general population could help doctors provide appropriate guidance to surrogate decision makers.


Using a discrete choice experiment design, we conducted an online survey using an Australian panel. Participants were asked about their willingness to accept treatments, faced with a variety of possible outcomes and probabilities (low, moderate or high). The outcomes were across four domains: loss of functional autonomy, pain, cognitive disability and degree of burden on others. Demographic details, prior experience of intensive care unit and current health conditions were also collected. Data were analysed using logistic regression, predicting whether respondents choose to continue active treatment or not.


Nine hundred and eighty-four respondents, representative of age and sex completed the web-based survey. With the increasing likelihood of negative post-intensive care unit sequelae, there was a higher probability of the respondent preferring to stop ongoing active treatment, with the largest coefficients being on caring assistance and the need for full-time residential care. Those who identified as very religious, were younger or who had children under 5 years of age were more likely to choose to continue active treatment.


Respondents valued their independence as the most important factor in deciding whether to receive ongoing medical treatments in the intensive care unit. When clinicians are unable to obtain specific patient information, they should consider framing their decision making around the likelihood of the patient achieving functional independence rather than survival.

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Fig. 1

Data availability statement

The data that support the findings of this study are available on request from the corresponding author. The data are not publicly available because they contain information that could compromise research participant privacy/consent.


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Author information




MHA initiated the project, co-developed the protocol and drafted the manuscript. RN led on data collection and analysis and assisted on drafting sections of the manuscript. IAM and CC co-developed the protocol, assisted with interpretation of findings, and provided comments and other input on the manuscript.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Matthew H. Anstey.

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This trial was supported by a Grant from the Sir Charles Gairdner Research Advisory Council (Grant no. 2016-17/023).

Conflict of interest

Matthew H. Anstey, Imogen A. Mitchell, Charlie Corke and Richard Norman have no conflicts of interest that are directly relevant to the content of this article.

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Anstey, M.H., Mitchell, I.A., Corke, C. et al. Population Preferences for Treatments When Critically Ill: A Discrete Choice Experiment. Patient 13, 339–346 (2020).

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