Using best-worst scaling to understand patient priorities: A case example of papanicolaou tests for homeless women

Eve Wittenberg, Monica Bharel, John F.P. Bridges, Zachary Ward, Linda Weinreb

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


PURPOSE Best-worst scaling (BWS) is a survey method for assessing individuals’ priorities. It identifies the extremes—best and worst items, most and least important factors, biggest and smallest influences—among sets. In this article, we demonstrate an application of BWS in a primary care setting to illustrate its use in identifying patient priorities for services. METHODS We conducted a BWS survey in 2014 in Boston, Massachusetts, to assess the relative importance of 10 previously identified attributes of Papanicolaou (Pap) testing services among women experiencing homelessness. Women were asked to evaluate 11 sets of 5 attributes of Pap services, and identify which attribute among each set would have the biggest and smallest influence on promoting uptake. We show how frequency analysis can be used to analyze results. RESULTS In all, 165 women participated, a response rate of 72%. We identified the most and least salient influences on encouraging Pap screening based on their frequency of report among our sample, with possible standardized scores ranging from+1.0 (biggest influence) to –1.0 (smallest influence). Most important was the availability of support for issues beyond health (+0.39), while least important was the availability of accommodations for personal hygiene (–0.27). CONCLUSIONS BWS quantifies patient priorities in a manner that is transparent and accessible. It is easily comprehendible by patients and relatively easy to administer. Our application illustrates its use in a vulnerable population, showing that factors beyond those typically provided in health care settings are highly important to women in seeking Pap screening. This approach can be applied to other health care services where prioritization is helpful to guide decisions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)359-364
Number of pages6
JournalAnnals of family medicine
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 1 2016


  • Best-worst scaling
  • Cervical cancer
  • Conjoint analysis
  • Homeless
  • Methods
  • Stated preferences
  • Vulnerable populations

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Family Practice

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