Healthcare is a broad term used to describe the various systems we as humans rely upon to help us maintain our personal health through the treatment (or prevention) of illness, injury, disease, and other physical or mental impairments.
Healthcare encompasses not only medical doctors and hospitals, but also dentistry, psychology, nursing, physical therapy, occupational therapy, and more.
Nationwide healthcare systems take many forms, and access to healthcare varies across countries, municipalities, and individuals and is primarily influenced by economic and social factors.
Access to healthcare is seen as a fundamental human right by many people and governments. People who lack quality healthcare are often left with a poorer quality of life and lower life expectancy than people who enjoy a stable, accessible, and affordable healthcare system. Countries with efficient and effective health care systems have overall better health outcomes than countries whose healthcase systems lag behind.
The quality of healthcare is determined by considering a wide range of factors including the care process (preventative care measures, safe care, coordinated care, and engagement and patient preferences), access (affordability and timeliness), administrative efficiency, equity, and healthcare outcomes (population health, mortality amenable to healthcare, and disease-specific health outcomes).
Identifying a top-notch healthcare system is fairly easy. Creating a definitive ranking of which countries have the best and worst healthcare systems is virtually impossible. The systems in play are incredibly complex, and there is significant debate about which factors are most important and what a perfect system looks like. But healthcare is vitally important, so health-focused organizations keep searching for that elusive best system.
The most famous nation-to-nation healthcare ranking is the World Health Organization’s report, “Measuring Overall Health System Performance for 191 Countries”, released in the year 2000. At the time, the report created a firestorm of controversy, with many critics taking exception to which criteria the report chose to measure and how those criteria were weighed and compared. That said, the report continues to be widely cited and circulated to this day.
Top 10 Countries with the Best Healthcare in the World - World Health Organization (2000)
However, subsequent reports from other organizations have used different evaluations and come up with different rankings. For example, the CEOWORLD magazine Health Care Index offered this ranking in 2021:
Top 10 Countries with the Best Healthcare in the World - CEOWORLD magazine (2021)
The UK-based thinktank the Legatum Institute’s Prosperity Index, now in its 14th year, came up with this list in 2020:
Top 10 Countries with the Best Healthcare in the World - Legatum Institute (2020)
Top 10 Countries with the Best Healthcare in the World - BAV Group/Wharton School (2020)
What countries have the best healthcare in the world?
Unfortunately, it’s clear that there is no single perfect answer to this question. Rather, the answer depends upon whom you ask and what criteria they use to evaluate the various systems.
However, there are some trends that one can identify in comparing the various data sets.
For example, the northern European countries tend to fare well in the more recent reports. Whether it’s Norway, Denmark, Switzerland, or a neighbor, it’s clear that Northern Europe is working hard to keep its people healthy. East Asian countries also represent well, with South Korea, Japan, and Singapore all making appearances.
Finally, it’s difficult to overlook the absence of the United States in every list. While the U.S. certainly has its share of first-class doctors and facilities, higher costs and lower availability of care continue to impact its ranking—especially when compared to countries with some form of universal health care.