Intended for healthcare professionals


Do patients’ preferences matter?

BMJ 2008; 337 doi: (Published 31 October 2008) Cite this as: BMJ 2008;337:a2034
  1. Klim McPherson, visiting professor of public health epidemiology
  1. 1Nuffield Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Oxford University, Womens Centre, John Radcliffe Hospital, Headington, Oxford OX3 9DU
  1. klim.mcpherson{at}

    Yes, but to what extent is unclear

    Patients’ preferences are important. Where treatment choices have different and well understood outcomes, what matters most when deciding which treatment is best is the patient’s preference. The intriguing question is whether strong treatment preferences can also affect outcomes—that is, can the preferences themselves exert a therapeutic effect over and above the anticipated effects of compliance and attrition, and if so, by how much? We know very little about this area. In the linked study (doi:10.1136/bmj.a1864), the Preference Collaborative Review Group reviews the effects of patient preferences on attrition and outcomes in trials of patients’ preferences using a meta-analysis of individual patient data.1

    We know that the placebo effect can be profound. Its most plausible mechanism of action involves belief in an effect, and this must relate strongly to preferences.2 But a double blind trial of placebo versus nothing is needed to identify a placebo effect. Some meta-analyses have shown a placebo effect,3 but more convincing evidence comes from observation rather than …

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