U.S. Low on Hospital Beds, Physician Visits, High on Costs

Janice Simmons, for HealthLeaders Media , July 14, 2010

Physicians visits in the U.S. on a per capita basis generally were lower (4) than found in the 30 other industrialized countries (6.4). The rate in the U.S. was lower than all but four of the 25 countries that reported on this measure.

On a per capita basis, fewer practicing physicians were found in the U.S. (2.4 per 1,000 population) than most other OECD countries. The median there was 3.3 physicians.

Hospital stays in the U.S. were less frequent and shorter—but more expensive. The number of hospital discharges per 1,000 population in the U.S. (119) was in the bottom quartile among OECD countries—much lower than the OECD median of 162.

The U.S. had among the fewest acute care hospital beds per capita (2.7 per 1,000 population) among OECD countries (median was 3.4).

Spending per hospital discharge in the U.S was ($17,126), which was 2.5 times higher than the average of OECD median ($6,867) and almost 50 percent higher than the Netherlands, the second most expensive OECD country ($11,522).

Average life expectancy at birth in the U.S. was 77.8 years— placing it at the bottom quartile among the 30 OECD countries in 2006 (Exhibit 5). Ten countries had life expectancies at birth of over 80 years. The U.S. had the smallest increase in life expectancy among all OECD countries from 1986 to 2006—3.1 years, compared with the median of 4.7 years.

High tech medical procedures are performed at a high rate in the U.S. Sophisticated imaging technology was comparatively prevalent in the U.S., with 33.9 computed tomography (CT) scanners and 26.5 magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) units per million population, compared with 14.8 CT scanners and 7.7 MRI units in the OECD median. Only two countries (Australia and Belgium) had more CT scanners per capita than the U.S., and only one country (Japan) had more MRI units.

Janice Simmons is a senior editor and Washington, DC, correspondent for HealthLeaders Media Online. She can be reached at jsimmons@healthleadersmedia.com.

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