Health Care Wait Times By Country 2021

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One of the most critical measures of the quality of a country's health care system is how long patients have to wait to access medical care. But the question of which countries have the shortest wait times is complicated by the different ways that countries measure wait time and the differences in the health care systems of various countries.

A common misconception in the U.S. is that countries with universal health care have much longer wait times. However, data from nations with universal coverage, and historical data from coverage expansion in the United States, show that patients in other nations have similar or shorter wait times.

The OECD measured wait times in several countries, specifically:

  • The share of people who sometimes, rarely, or never get an answer from their regular doctor's office.
  • The share of people waiting one month or more for a specialist appointment.
  • How long a patient has to wait to get "elective" or non-emergency surgery. In this article, we'll look at the most common types: cataract, hip replacement, and knee replacement.

The data among these countries varied significantly. The OECD median wait time for cataract surgery was 92 days. For hip replacement, it was 113 days, and for knee replacement, it was 189 days.

The median waiting times for cataract surgery ranged from 24 days in Italy to over 250 days in Poland. Waiting times for hip replacement ranged from 35 days in Denmark to 282 in Estonia. For knee replacement, they ranged from 42 days in Italy to 839 days in Chile.

The U.S. was on the higher side for the share of people who sometimes, rarely, or never get an answer from their regular doctor on the same day at 28%. Canada had the highest at 33% and Switzerland had the lowest at 12%. The U.S. was towards the lower end for the share of people waiting one month or more for a specialist appointment at 27%. Canada and Norway tied for the highest at 61% each and Switzerland had the lowest at 23%.

In the table below are each country's wait times for the measures mentioned above. Not every country has all statistics available.

Health Care Wait Times By Country 2021

Country % Waiting > 1 Day % Waiting > 1 Month (Specialist) Median Days Wait - Cataract Surgery Median Days Wait Hip Replacement Median Days Wait - Knee Replacement
Canada33.00%61.00%66105122
United States28.00%27.00%
Sweden24.00%52.00%517590
Norway22.00%61.00%132123152
United Kingdom21.00%41.00%659298
New Zealand17.00%48.00%828189
Australia14.00%39.00%84119209
Netherlands13.00%25.00%
Germany13.00%25.00%
Switzerland12.00%23.00%
Estonia0.00%0.00%187282461
Finland0.00%0.00%977799
Denmark0.00%0.00%363544
Israel0.00%0.00%775685
Hungary0.00%0.00%364385
Portugal0.00%0.00%119126204
Chile0.00%0.00%97240839
Poland0.00%0.00%246179253
Spain0.00%0.00%74118147
Italy0.00%0.00%245042

Health Care Wait Times By Country 2021