The best health care system in the world?

Although the information infrastructure in OECD countries needs to be strengthened, there is no reason not to try to learn from approaches taken abroad.

Blog post

Published: 03/05/2015

It is good to have ambitions, but it is also good to back policy rhetoric with facts. For years, the UK has been a leader in promoting an evidence-based approach towards healthcare policy and it is good to see that this new QualityWatch report underpins this notion by comparing quality of care in the UK on a series of indicators with other Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries.

A comprehensive and insightful story

Despite the methodological shortcomings, which are properly addressed in the text, a picture emerges that helps to assess the strengths and weaknesses of quality of care in the UK. By looking at trends over time and comparing the UK with a group of 14 OECD peer countries on 27 indicators related to primary care, acute care, cancer care and mental health, the researchers tell a comprehensive and insightful story.

Where possible the report looks at the differences between England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales and this of course adds to the learning. By linking up the reporting and governance levels the actionability of the indicators can only improve.

Similar comparative approaches have been taken in Canada, The Netherlands and Sweden, and of course this is exactly what the OECD hopes for from its work on Health Care Quality Indicators.

An opportunity to learn from others

With comparable data improving, the potential for comparing relative effectiveness of policy strategies also increases. In 2013, the OECD released a report on cancer care, exploring the dynamics behind different performance results by countries. A similar analytic report, looking at cardiovascular care and diabetes, was released a few weeks ago. The report shows that mortality on cardiovascular disease in the UK is declining and related performance on primary care and acute care is in general, good compared with other OECD countries. Worrying trends though are obesity in adults and smoking amongst youth.

Although the information infrastructure in OECD countries needs strengthening to facilitate further data-based comparisons, there is no reason to withhold from trying to learn from approaches taken abroad. Medicine is an international phenomenon and its application as reflected in quality of care is an excellent starting point for mutual learning. The wealth of international literature on clinical trials needs balancing with sound information on international comparisons on quality of care.

Expanding the data available

Later this year, the OECD will publish the 2015 version of Health at a Glance. This report will contain more data on mental health, safety, patient experience and quality of prescribing; all areas where (inter)national research and development activities can help to broaden our insight in health system performance.

Also, as part of a series of national reviews on quality of care policies, later this year the OECD will release a Quality Review report on the four countries of the UK.

What lessons does the UK and its constituent countries draw from the QualityWatch report? Is it perceived as comforting or worrisome? Will it result in short term policy reflexes or long term insight and learning? Will the UK be the best health care system in the world? Keep watching.