Comparing efficiency of health systems across industrialized countries: A panel analysis

Bianca K. Frogner, H. E. Frech, Stephen T. Parente

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


Background: Rankings from the World Health Organization (WHO) place the US health care system as one of the least efficient among Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries. Researchers have questioned this, noting simplistic or inappropriate methodologies, poor measurement choice, and poor control variables. Our objective is to re-visit this question by using newer modeling techniques and a large panel of OECD data. Methods: We primarily use the OECD Health Data for 25 OECD countries. We compare results from stochastic frontier analysis (SFA) and fixed effects models. We estimate total life expectancy as well as life expectancy at age 60. We explore a combination of control variables reflecting health care resources, health behaviors, and economic and environmental factors. Results: The US never ranks higher than fifth out of all 36 models, but is also never the very last ranked country though it was close in several models. The SFA estimation approach produces the most consistent lead country, but the remaining countries did not maintain a steady rank. Discussion: Our study sheds light on the fragility of health system rankings by using a large panel and applying the latest efficiency modeling techniques. The rankings are not robust to different statistical approaches, nor to variable inclusion decisions. Conclusions: Future international comparisons should employ a range of methodologies to generate a more nuanced portrait of health care system efficiency.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number415
JournalBMC Health Services Research
Issue number1
StatePublished - Sep 25 2015

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This study was supported by funding from the American Enterprise Institute.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015 Frogner et al.


  • Efficiency
  • Health systems
  • International comparison
  • Life expectancy
  • Stochastic frontier analysis


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