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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Are waiting times for hospital admissions affected by patients' choices and mobility?

Ånen Ringard* and Terje P Hagen

Author Affiliations

Department of Health Management and Health Economics University of Oslo Norway

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BMC Health Services Research 2011, 11:170  doi:10.1186/1472-6963-11-170

Published: 15 July 2011

Abstract

Background

Waiting times for elective care have been considered a serious problem in many health care systems. A topic of particular concern has been how administrative boundaries act as barriers to efficient patient flows. In Norway, a policy combining patient's choice of hospital and removal of restriction on referrals was introduced in 2001, thereby creating a nationwide competitive referral system for elective hospital treatment. The article aims to analyse if patient choice and an increased opportunity for geographical mobility has reduced waiting times for individual elective patients.

Methods

A survey conducted among Norwegian somatic patients in 2004 gave information about whether the choice of hospital was made by the individual patient or by others. Survey data was then merged with administrative data on which hospital that actually performed the treatment. The administrative data also gave individual waiting time for hospital admission. Demographics, socio-economic position, and medical need were controlled for to determine the effect of choice and mobility upon waiting time. Several statistical models, including one with instrument variables for choice and mobility, were run.

Results

Patients who had neither chosen hospital individually nor bypassed the local hospital for other reasons faced the longest waiting times. Next were patients who individually had chosen the local hospital, followed by patients who had not made an individual choice, but had bypassed the local hospital for other reasons. Patients who had made a choice to bypass the local hospitals waited on average 11 weeks less than the first group.

Conclusion

The analysis indicates that a policy combining increased opportunity for hospital choice with the removal of rules restricting referrals can reduce waiting times for individual elective patients. Results were robust over different model specifications.

Keywords:
Patient choice; elective treatment; waiting times; Norway