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How the U.S. Health System Compares to Those in Other Industrialized Countries

In a new report from the Commonwealth Fund, the U.S. health system is compared to those in 11 other developed countries: Australia, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, and the U.K.

The U.S. far exceeded the other developed countries on national health expenditures, both on a per capita basis and as a percentage of GDP. Hospital spending per discharge, adjusted for differences in the cost of living, was $16,708 in the U.S. compared to $4,566 in Germany, with a median cost of $5949 for all the countries in 2008. All 12 countries are facing health cost containment issues, however.  Other comparative factors discussed include:

  • supply and utilization of doctors and hospitals
  • hospital spending per discharge
  • supply, use, and price of pharmaceuticals
  • supply, use, and price of diagnostic imaging
  • hospital mortality rates and other quality performance indicators

The U.S. ranked highest in both pharmaceutical and diagnostic imaging supply, use and prices. U.S. performance was mixed on quality issues, ranking high on cancer survival but comparatively poor on hospital admission rates for chronic diseases.

The analysis , based on data from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development [OECD], was done to identify areas where the U.S. might learn from other countries to improve overall performance of the nation’s health system.


Squires D. The U.S. health system in perspective: a comparison of twelve industrialized nations. Issues in international health policy. Commonwealth Fund, July 2011. http://www.commonwealthfund.org/~/media/Files/Publications/Issue%20Brief/2011/Jul/1532_Squires_US_hlt_sys_comparison_12_nations_intl_brief.pdf

OECD StatExtracts: Health. Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, accessed Aug. 1, 2011 at http://stats.oecd.org/index.aspx?DataSetCode=HEALTH_STAT

Posted by the AHA Resource Center, (312) 422-2050, rc@aha.org

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