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Not so patient

Patients in most OECD countries face long hospital waiting times, whether for primary care, out-patient specialist care or even emergency care. Tax payers rightly expect better service, and hospital waiting times are understandably a contentious political issue.

According to Waiting Time Policies in the Health Sector: What Works?, which examines and compares different country cases, what really matters is the actual waiting time of patients on the list, and not just the number of patients.

What can patients do if waiting times are too long? One option is to go to where they are shorter. This is happening in the EU where in March 2011 a new directive (2011/24/EU) obliges countries to reimburse patients for treatment received in other EU member states if treatment at home was subject to “undue delay”.

A European Barometer survey shows that 64% of EU-wide respondents would travel to get faster treatment (our chart).

But would this decrease waiting times? One Norwegian study says it would, but suggests costs might be higher too if travel and accommodation for relatives and nurses are included. As the trend for travelling grows, good management will be crucial, both for sending countries trying to reduce their long waiting times and recipients trying to safeguard theirs.

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©OECD Observer No 294 T1 2013