Healthcare in Israel: The good, the bad, and the ugly

How does healthcare in Israel compare to other OECD countries?

Sara Rubenstein,

Doctors perform surgery
Doctors perform surgery
Nati Shohat/Flash 90

The OECD annual report “Health at a Glance" was released on Thursday. How does Israel fare in comparison to other OECD countries?

The good news is that although Israel spends less on healthcare per capita than average, it has a higher than average life expectancy, the lowest level of mortality from preventable causes, and a lower than average rate of avoidable mortality.

One factor that may contribute to Israelis' high life expectancy is their lower than average consumption of alcohol, which is under five liters per person compared to the OECD average of 8.9 liters per person. According to the report: "alcohol use is a leading cause of death and disability worldwide" and also "contributes to more accidents and injuries, violence, homicide, suicide and mental health disorders than any other psychoactive substance."

There's also good news for Israeli women. The rates of obstetric trauma during childbirth is below the average in Israel as is the rate of Caesarean sections. Additionally, Israel is one of six countries who have relatively high breast cancer survival rates despite spending less than the OECD average. (The other five are Italy, Korea, Portugal, New Zealand and Spain.)

Moving on from the good news, one concerning statistic about Israel regards opioid use. Despite the widely publicized opioid crisis in the United States and Canada, the availability of analgesic opioids per person has increased the most in Israel (as well as in the United Kingdom and Germany) while it has dropped sharply in other countries. The sharpest falls were in the United States, Denmark and Luxembourg.

Another concerning statistic pertains to the availability of medical technology in Israel. The number of MRI units and CT scanners per population is the lowest in Israel (and Mexico, Hungary, and the United Kingdom) among OECD countries. This statistic certainly contributes to Israel's lower than average spending on healthcare but also can result in prolonged waiting times for use of these machines.

The worst news for Israel concerns its health workforce. The absolute and per capita number of doctors has increased in almost all OECD countries since 2000, except Israel. Although the absolute number of doctors in Israel has increased by 25% since 2000, it has not been able to keep pace with the total population growth of about 40% between 2000 and 2017.

Furthermore, the share of older doctors in Israel has increased, with 50% of all doctors aged 55 or over by 2017. The only country in worse shape in Israel among OECD countries regarding aging doctors is Italy, with 55% of all doctors aged 55 or over by 2017.




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