BackgroundConcerns have been raised regarding the reasonableness of using personal health responsibility as a principle or criterion for setting priorities in healthcare. While this debate continues, little is known about clinicians’ views on the role of patient responsibility in clinical contexts. This paper contributes to the knowledge on the empirical relevance of personal responsibility for priority setting at the clinical level.
MethodsA qualitative study of Norwegian clinicians (n = 15) was designed, using semi-structured interviews with vignettes to elicit beliefs on the relevance of personal responsibility as a basis for health prioritisation. Sampling was undertaken purposefully. The interviews were conducted in three hospital trusts in South-Eastern Norway between May 2018 and February 2019 and were analysed with conceptually driven thematic analysis.
ResultsThe findings suggest that clinicians endorsed a general principle of personal health responsibility but were reluctant to introduce personal health responsibility as a formal priority setting criterion. Five main objections were cited, relating to avoidability, causality, harshness, intrusiveness, and inequity. Still, both retrospective and prospective attributions of personal responsibility were perceived as relevant in specific clinical settings. The most prominent argument in favour of personal health responsibility was grounded in the idea that holding patients responsible for their conduct would contribute to the efficient use of healthcare resources. Other arguments included fairness to others, desert and autonomy, but such standpoints were controversial and held only marginal relevance.
ConclusionsOur study provides important novel insights into the clinicians’ beliefs about personal health responsibility improving the empirical knowledge concerning its fairness and potential applications to healthcare prioritisation. These findings suggest that although personal health responsibility would be difficult to implement as a steering criterion within the main priority setting framework, there might be clinical contexts where it could figure in prioritisation practices. Additional research on personal health responsibility would benefit from considering the multiple clinical encounters that shape doctor-patient relationships and that create the information basis for eligibility and prioritisation for treatment.
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