Although the factors influencing the shortage and maldistribution of health workers have been well-documented by cross-sectional surveys, there is less evidence on the relative determinants of health workers' job choices, or on the effects of policies designed to address these human resources problems. Recently, a few studies have adopted an innovative approach to studying the determinants of health workers' job preferences. In the absence of longitudinal datasets to analyse the decisions that health workers have actually made, authors have drawn on methods from marketing research and transport economics and used Discrete Choice Experiments to analyse stated preferences of health care providers for different job characteristics. We carried out a literature review of studies using discrete choice experiments to investigate human resources issues related to health workers, both in developed and developing countries. Several economic and health systems bibliographic databases were used, and contacts were made with practitioners in the field to identify published and grey literature. Ten studies were found that used discrete choice experiments to investigate the job preferences of health care providers. The use of discrete choice experiments techniques enabled researchers to determine the relative importance of different factors influencing health workers' choices. The studies showed that non-pecuniary incentives are significant determinants, sometimes more powerful than financial ones. The identified studies also emphasized the importance of investigating the preferences of different subgroups of health workers. Discrete choice experiments are a valuable tool for informing decision-makers on how to design strategies to address human resources problems. As they are relatively quick and cheap survey instruments, discrete choice experiments present various advantages for informing policies in developing countries, where longitudinal labour market data are seldom available. Yet they are complex research instruments requiring expertise in a number of different areas. Therefore it is essential that researchers also understand the potential limitations of discrete choice experiment methods.
Human Resources for Health (2009) 7: 62 [doi: 10.1186/1478-4491-7-62]