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Valuing health services: does it matter whether it is an existing or new service?

Project Description

When evaluating health services it is crucial to include population preferences. Discrete Choice Experiments (DCEs) are an increasingly popular tool to elicit population preferences and they can be used to elicit Willingness to Pay (WTP) for use in a Cost Benefit analysis. Given current budget constraints it is becoming more common to evaluate existing services as well as new services. In the standard economic theory underlying DCEs valuations are a function of the attributes of a service only. Whether the service is existing or new should not matter. However, insights from behavioural economics suggest that this assumption may not hold. Status quo bias, loss aversion and habit formation may all mean that individuals place a higher value on existing services compared to new services holding everything else equal. This leads to individuals being more likely to choose existing services within a DCE, which results in upwardly biased WTP estimates. This has implications in terms of policy recommendation as existing services are more likely to be considered efficient compared to new services. In two recent DCEs for existing dental services we found that individuals were willing to pay a relatively large amount even when controlling for all important attributes such as clinical effectiveness and appearance. It is crucial that we better understand what informs these values and to what extent these represent status quo bias, loss aversion, habit information, etc

The aim of this PhD is to examine whether and why existing services are valued differently from new services holding everything else equal. This can be explored by framing an unfamiliar service as either new or existing. It can also be explored by altering the way in which the status quo is included in the DCE. DCE tasks can be framed as a choice between the status quo and new services, or between a range of services, which include the status quo, and no service. Qualitative research will be used to better understand participants’ decision making under the different frames. Qualitative research is also used alongside a DCE valuing a familiar good such as scale and polish in order to better understand why individuals place a high value on these services even when controlling for important attributes of that service. The thesis will draw on behavioural economics to better understand the mechanisms how valuations may differ and suggest ways to adjust WTP estimates if appropriate.

This studentship is based in the Health Economics Research Unit (HERU) at the University of Aberdeen. HERU is one of the leading units in health economics and is internationally recognised as a centre of excellence for preference elicitation including DCEs. The studentship is suitable for candidates with an honours degree (or equivalent) in economics or related discipline.

This project is advertised in relation to the research areas of APPLIED HEALTH SCIENCE. Formal applications can be completed online: You should apply for Degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Applied Health Science, to ensure that your application is passed to the correct person for processing.


Candidates should contact the lead supervisor to discuss the project in advance of submitting an application, as supervisors will be expected to provide a letter of support for suitable applicants. Candidates will be informed after the application deadline if they have been shortlisted for interview.

Funding Notes

This project is part of a competition funded by the Institute of Applied Health Sciences. Full funding is available to UK/EU candidates only. Overseas candidates can apply for this studentship but will have to find additional funding to cover the difference between overseas and home fees (approximately £15,680 per annum).

Candidates should have (or expect to achieve) a minimum of a First Class Honours degree in a relevant subject. Applicants with a minimum of a 2:1 Honours degree may be considered provided they have a Distinction at Masters level.

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