BACKGROUND: Back pain imposes a substantial economic and social burden, and treatment decisions are distorted by conflicting evidence. Thus, it is important to include patient preferences in decision making and policy making.
OBJECTIVE: To contribute to the understanding of patient preferences in relation to the choice of treatment for low back pain.
METHODS: A discrete choice experiment was conducted with consecutive patients referred to a regional spine center. The respondents (n = 348) were invited to respond to a choice of two hypothetical treatment options and an opt-out option. The treatment attributes included the treatment modality, the risk of relapse, the reduction in pain, and the expected increase in the ability to perform activities of daily living. In addition, the wait time to achieve the treatment effect was used as a payment vehicle. Mixed logit models were created to perform analysis. Subgroup analysis, dividing respondents into sociodemographic and disease-related categories, further explored the willingness to wait.
RESULTS: Respondents assigned positive utilities to positive treatment outcomes and disutility to higher risks and longer waits for effects of treatment and to surgical interventions. The model captured significant heterogeneity within the sample for the outcomes of pain reduction and the ability to pursue activities of daily living and for the treatment modality. The subgroup analysis revealed differences in the willingness to wait, especially with regard to treatment modality, the level of pain experienced at the time of data collection, and the respondents' preferences for surgery.
CONCLUSIONS: The majority of the respondents prefer nonsurgical interventions, but patients are willing to wait for more ideal outcomes and preferred interventions. The results show that health care professionals have a very important task in communicating clearly about the expected results of treatment and the basis of their treatment decisions, as patients' preferences are highly individual.