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Open Access Open Badges Research article

Socioeconomic differences in waiting times for elective surgery: a population-based retrospective study

Alessio Petrelli1*, Giuliana De Luca2, Tania Landriscina1 and Giuseppe Costa3

Author Affiliations

1 Epidemiology and Public Health Unit, Piedmont Region, Turin, Italy

2 Department of Economics and Statistics, University of Calabria, Cosenza, Italy

3 Department of Hygiene and Public Health, University of Turin, Turin, Italy

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BMC Health Services Research 2012, 12:268  doi:10.1186/1472-6963-12-268

Published: 21 August 2012



Widespread literature on inequity in healthcare access and utilization has been published, but research on socioeconomic differences in waiting times is sparse and the evidence is fragmentary and controversial. The objective of the present study is the analysis of the relationship between individual socioeconomic level and waiting times for in-hospital elective surgery.


We retrospectively studied the waiting times experienced by patients registered on hospital waiting lists for 6 important surgical procedures by using the Hospital Discharge Database (HDD) of the Piedmont Region (4,000,000 inhabitants in the North West of Italy) from 2006 to 2008. The surgical procedures analyzed were: coronary artery by-pass (CABG), angioplasty, coronarography, endarterectomy, hip replacement and cholecystectomy. Cox regression models were estimated to study the relationship between waiting times and educational level taking into account the confounding effect of the following factors: sex, age, comorbidity, registration period, and Local Health Authorities (LHA) as a proxy of supply.


Median waiting times for low educational level were higher than for high educational level for all the selected procedures. Differences were particularly high for endarterectomy and hip replacement. For all considered procedures, except CABG, an inverse gradient between waiting times and educational level was observed: the conditional probabilities of undergoing surgery were lower among individuals with a low to middle level education than for individuals with a higher level of education after adjustment for sex, age, comorbidities, registration period, and LHAs. For most procedures the effect decreases over the follow up period.


The results of the study show evidence of inequalities in access to elective surgery in Italy. Implementation of policies aimed to promote national information initiatives that guarantee wider access to those with low socio-economic status is strongly recommended.

Equity; Access; Duration analysis; Waiting times; Socioeconomic status