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. The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (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 procedures such as cataract surgery, hip replacement, and knee replacement.
Highest, lowest, and average median wait times for non-emergency surgeries (in days):
|Procedure||Low median||High median||Overall median|
|Cataract surgery||24 - Italy||250 or more - Poland||92|
|Hip replacement||35 - Denmark||282 - Estonia||113|
|Knee replacement||42 - Italy||839 - Chile||189|
As can be seen even from this small sample (full results can be seen in the table below), country-to-country wait times varied significantly.
Are health care wait times longer in countries with universal health care than in the United States?
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, coupled with historical data from coverage expansion in the United States, show that patients in other nations often have similar or shorter wait times.
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%.