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Bedside healthcare rationing dilemmas: a survey from Portugal

Micaela Pinho (Applied Microeconomics Research Unit (NIMA), Portucalense University, Oporto, Portugal)
Ana Borges (ISAG Research Unit – European Business School, Lusíada University of Oporto, Oporto, Portugal)

International Journal of Human Rights in Healthcare

ISSN: 2056-4902

Article publication date: 21 December 2015




The purpose of this paper is to seek to elicit, in a context of economic crisis, the social preferences for the microallocation of scarce healthcare resources.


Data were collected from an online questionnaire which includes a hypothetical rationing choice scenario with four patients differentiated by their personal characteristics and health states competing for treatments and a set of statements that embodies: distributive criteria for prioritizing patients; the authorship of these types of decisions; and the likelihood of these decisions to be taken. Descriptive statistics, factor analysis and non-parametric test were used for describing and validating the data.


Findings suggest that respondents: support a pluralism of distributive principles in prioritizing patients with an incident in utilitarianism and the reducing of inequalities in health, translated in the fair-inning and in emotional arguments of fragility; trust in the health professional to make prioritization decisions; and are conscious that rationing decisions will be real in the short term.

Practical implications

The pursuit of efficiency and the equalizing of a lifetime health seem to be the criteria that should guide any rationing policy at the micro level.


This study addresses simultaneously several ethical principles inherent to microallocation healthcare resources in a suitable context in which Portugal is facing an economic crisis and where, consequently, rationing healthcare policies gain prominence on the political agenda.



Pinho, M. and Borges, A. (2015), "Bedside healthcare rationing dilemmas: a survey from Portugal", International Journal of Human Rights in Healthcare, Vol. 8 No. 4, pp. 233-246.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2015, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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