Measuring and comparing health care waiting times in OECD countries

Luigi Siciliani*, Valerie Moran, Michael Borowitz

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

131 Citations (Scopus)


Waiting times for elective treatments are a key health-policy concern in several OECD countries. This study describes common measures of waiting times from administrative data across OECD countries. It focuses on common elective procedures, such as hip and knee replacement, and cataract surgery, where waiting times are notoriously long. It provides comparative data on waiting times across 12 OECD countries and presents trends in waiting times over the last decade. Waiting times appear to be low in the Netherlands and Denmark. In the last decade the United Kingdom (in particular England), Finland and the Netherlands have witnessed large reductions in waiting times which can be attributed to a range of policy initiatives, including higher spending, waiting-times target schemes and incentive mechanisms, which reward higher levels of activity. The negative trend in these countries has, however, halted or reversed in recent years. The analysis also emphasizes systematic differences across different waiting-time measures, in particular between the distribution of waiting times of patients treated versus that of patients on the list. Mean waiting times are systematically higher than median waiting times and the difference can be quantitatively large.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)292-303
Number of pages12
JournalHealth Policy
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • Administrative data
  • Cross-country comparison
  • OECD
  • Waiting times


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