Laid Up in the Hospital

If you had to have your appendix removed in Sweden, you would stay in the hospital about three days, but if you underwent the same procedure in Austria, you would stay in the hospital more than twice as long. The length of hospital stays has been a hot-button issue in the United States as well as in other industrialized nations because of the difficulties involved in weighing patients' welfare against the rising costs of health care.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development surveyed its 29 member countries in 1996 and found that the length of hospital stays for procedures or illnesses vary widely. The OECD did not gather reasons for the differences because treatments, insurance regulations and traditions also vary considerably from country to country.

Average number of days in the hospital after a heart attack (acute myocardial infarction):

Longest stays

FINLAND 20.9 days

AUSTRIA 19.0

GERMANY 15.8

Shortest stays

SWEDEN 7.3

U.S. 6.3

ITALY 5.2

Average number of days in the hospital after normal delivery of a baby:

Longest stays

Czech Republic 6.8

JAPAN 6.4

AUSTRIA 6.3

Shortest stays

SWEDEN 3.0

TURKEY 1.8

U.S. 1.6*

Average number of days in the hospital after an appendectomy:

Longest stays

AUSTRIA 7.3

GERMANY, HUNGARY 7.0

NETHERLANDS 6.4

Shortest stays

FINLAND 3.6

U.S. 3.5

SWEDEN 3.3

* A federal law that took effect last year stipulates that health plans that provide maternity benefits must cover stays of at least 48 hours after normal delivery.

OECD member countries: Australia, Austria, Belgium, Britain, Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Luxembourg, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, United States.

SOURCE: OECD, staff reports