Health policies and data

Waiting Times


Over the past decade, many OECD countries have introduced new policies to tackle excessive waiting times for elective treatments with some success. However, in the wake of the recent economic downturn and severe pressures on public budgets, waiting times may rise again, and it is important to understand which policies work.
Most health systems with problems with waiting times regularly collect administrative data on waiting times for a range of reasons (evaluation of policies, monitoring performance, etc). However, in general, there is limited comparative data on waiting times from administrative databases.


The Second OECD Waiting Times Study seeks to fill the existing information gap regarding both waiting times policy evaluation and comparable cross-country data.

The publication Waiting Time Policies in the Health Sector - What Works? provides a framework to understand the role of waiting lists and waiting times for elective treatment in several OECD countries. It describes how waiting times are measured in OECD countries, which differ widely, and makes recommendations for best practice. Third, it reviews different policy approaches to tackling excessive waiting times. The review draws on 13 detailed case studies (mainly written by academic experts) that review policies on waiting times in the last decade in the following countries: Australia, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, United Kingdom.

The project has also piloted the collection of four waiting times measures for eleven elective surgical procedures and publicly-funded patients: 1) Inpatient waiting times (from specialist addition to the list) of patients treated in a given year; 2) Referral-to-treatment waiting times (from family doctor referral) of patients treated in a given year; 3) Inpatient waiting times of patients on the list at a census date; 4) Referral-to-treatment waiting time of patients on the list at a census date.





The initial OECD Project on Waiting Times

The OECD carried out a project to investigate and compare waiting times across selected OECD countries, taking stock of the member countries who have introduce measures to tackle excessive waiting times, and investigating the causes of variations in waiting times. Two working papers were released as part of this project: