Should a patient's socioeconomic status count in decisions about treatment in medical care? A longitudinal study of Norwegian doctors' views.

The major causes of social inequalities in health are found outside of healthcare. However, healthcare can also play a role in maintaining, reducing, or reinforcing inequality. We present and discuss results from a panel study of doctors' views on whether and how socioeconomic factors should play a role in clinical decision making.


The panel comprised a representative sample of Norwegian doctors, established in 1994. For the current study, the doctors received postal questionnaires in 2008, 2012 and 2016. Data were analysed using descriptive statistics, correlation analysis, factor analysis and mixed models for repeated measurements.


The sample sizes were 1072 (65%), 1279 (71%) and 1605 (73%), respectively. The doctors were increasingly positive towards considering socioeconomic factors, and reported giving more time and advice and asking for less pay to compensate for unfavorable socioeconomic factors. General practitioners were more likely to consider socioeconomic factors and changed their practice accordingly compared to other clinicians. The percentage of doctors who agreed that different amounts of resources should be used to obtain similar health effects was high and increased over time.


Increasingly more doctors are willing to consider patients' socioeconomic factors in clinical care. This could be contrary to professional ethics, in which only medical need should count. However, it depends on how 'need' is interpreted. As treatment outcomes partly depend on non-medical factors, socioeconomic factors should be considered because they influence patients' ability to benefit from medical care. Equality requires mitigating factors with negative impacts on health outcomes.