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

Janice Simmons, for HealthLeaders Media, July 14, 2010

In its annual tracking and reporting on more than 1,200 health system measures across 30 industrialized countries, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), an international study group, found that the United States may be spending its healthcare dollars less efficiently when compared with those other nations.

In particular, the U.S. has a comparatively low number of hospital beds and physicians per capita, while American patients have fewer hospital and physician visits than most other countries. But on the flip side of the coin, spending per hospital visit is higher in the U.S.—with patients more likely to receive procedures requiring complex technology during their stay.

Despite these major investments, the U.S. has failed to achieve improvements in life expectancy comparable to its peer countries. This gap between the investment—and what is delivered in return—"suggests health services in the U.S. are less effectively deployed or come at a higher price," the authors say.

Here's a snapshot of the key findings from the researchers found in the report sponsored by The Commonwealth Fund:

Healthcare spending per capita in the U.S. in 2006 was $6,714—or more than twice the median per capita expenditure of the 30 OECD industrialized countries ($2,880), and 50% greater than Norway ($4,520), the second highest spending country.

Health care expenditures made up 15.3% of GDP in the U.S., while in the other OECD countries, it was generally less than 10% and did not exceed 11.3%.

Per capita spending in the U.S. on pharmaceuticals ($843) was higher than any of the other 30 countries, although pharmaceutical spending accounted for a lower share of total health expenditures in the U.S. (12.6%) than the OECD median (16.6%).

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