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Which Countries Have the Best Healthcare in the World?

Sharon Clarkson

Medical Insurance Nurse

As the world enters its second year of the coronavirus pandemic, having a strong healthcare system in the country is as important as ever. Medical care can vary widely between countries – when you become an expat or a digital nomad, it’s something you quickly get to know – but which countries are graced with the best healthcare in the world? We have come up with the countries viewed to have the most well-developed healthcare systems globally.

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France has one of the most developed healthcare systems in the world / GETTY

Which countries have the best healthcare in the world?

When you are becoming an expat or moving to another place abroad to work remotely as a digital nomad, access to healthcare will be one of the biggest factors in your choice of country.

Countries around the world apply different approaches to provide public medical care. Some rely on the government support, as in a single-payer approach. Other nations depend on private insurers and a third group of countries, such as the United States, have a mixture of both. The quality and efficiency of a country’s healthcare system can have a massive impact on its citizens’ quality of life.

Healthcare is a global industry encompassing both physical and mental health. It covers a range of functions, from the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of disease, illness and injury, to long-term recovery. According to the World Health Organization, a well-functioning healthcare system requires a steady financing mechanism, a properly-trained and adequately-paid workforce, well-maintained facilities, and access to reliable information to base decisions on. Healthcare is a costly item in national budgets, but who gets the best value for money, and who the best outcomes?

The World Health Organization’s last global report ranked these as 10 most advanced countries in medicine with best healthcare in the world:

  1. France
  2. Italy
  3. San Marino
  4. Andorra
  5. Malta
  6. Singapore
  7. Spain
  8. Oman
  9. Austria
  10. Japan

Source: World Health Organization, Measuring Overall Health System Performance for 191 Countries

Since this ranking, which analyses health system efficiency, other studies have produced slightly different lists.

Here, we take a closer look at some countries with the world’s best medical care and how their approaches differ. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Western European countries top a list of nations seen to have best healthcare in the world.

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Countries with the best healthcare systems in the world in 2021

The following 10 countries have been seen as providing the best healthcare for their population. We look at how citizens pay for healthcare around the world, whether it is universal or patients require health insurance, and the general standard of care they receive.

France

The French healthcare system is characterised by universal coverage and government organisation. France has one of the best healthcare in the world. Statutory health insurance (SHI) was expanded to cover every citizen in 2000. Out-of-pocket payments are common for doctor’s appointments, but the government usually refunds most fees.

Ranked top by the World Health Organization’s mammoth study, France also scores well for health outcomes. This gives the European nation an edge for advancement as well as accessibility. Having some of the highest quality medical care in the world helps to give France the lowest levels of cardiovascular mortality in the OEDC.

Germany

Germany is widely recognised as a country with some of the best healthcare in the world. This country is also one of the most medically advanced in the world, thanks to a high proportion of the world’s best medical technology universities.

In Europe-wide medical care surveys, Germany has often come in among the 15 best countries. According to the Commonwealth Fund, it performs especially well for access – its mixed public-private system, funded by statutory contributions, keeps costs and waiting times low.

Find out whether it’s better to visit private hospitals or use the public healthcare system in your new home. You can often do this through your embassy or consulate or you can reach out to other expats in the community for recommendations. Also, make sure that you are aware of how the emergency medical services function in the country that you are moving to.
Inez Cooper
Co-Founder & Managing Director, William Russell

Singapore

The World Health Organization’s global study gave Singapore the highest rank outside of Europe – it’s one of many countries in Asia with great healthcare.

Singapore’s healthcare is prized for its efficiency and financed through a mixed system. MediShield Life is a form of statutory public health insurance designed to cover large bills. Out-of-pocket payments are common, but other systems – MediSave and MediFund – help Singaporeans to pay for these. Learn more about life in Singapore.

United Kingdom

A 2017 Commonwealth Fund report places the United Kingdom top for healthcare system performance – care process and equity are its strong suits. However, against European rivals, the country fares less well, due in part to limited accessibility.

The United Kingdom has a universal, government-run system – it’s a country with among the world’s best free healthcare. Despite this, 10.5% of the population takes out private health insurance for more rapid access to elective care.

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Australia

The Commonwealth Fund’s 2017 study gives Australia the second-highest health system performance score – these measure care process, access, efficiency, equity and health outcomes.

Australia comes top for health outcomes, in fact. The universal Medicare system has covered the cost of public hospital stays and some other services since 1986, but outside of hospital, co-payments are common. Still, countries such as the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, New Zealand and Germany have more equitable healthcare than Australia, according to the Commonwealth Fund.

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Switzerland has one of the best healthcare systems in the world / GETTY

Switzerland

Switzerland comes top of the Euro Health Consumer Index 2018, and it’s firmly above the eleven-country average in the Commonwealth Fund’s list too. There are no free, state-run services here – instead, universal healthcare is achieved by mandatory private health insurance and some government involvement.

In Switzerland, patients often find they’re free to choose their own doctor and specialists are easy to come by – but this comes at a cost, since healthcare expenditure is the highest in Europe.

United Arab Emirates

The United Arab Emirates’ medical system fell into the global spotlight due to the country’s fast COVID-19 vaccine rollout in early 2021. It’s perhaps unsurprising, then, that the kingdom enjoys some of the best healthcare in the world and best medical care in the Middle East and Asia.

Healthcare is comprehensive for Emiratis and mostly government-funded, but the private sector is growing rapidly too. State-of-the-art hospitals and clinics are continually popping up, especially in the Dubai region. Learn more about moving to and living in Dubai in 2021.

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The Netherlands

The Dutch medical care system is a strong performer on the world stage – the Commonwealth Fund has ranked The Netherlands third among wealthy countries, and it came second in the Euro Health Consumer Index 2017.

All adults are required to purchase basic insurance – and can be fined if they don’t. Employer payments and taxes also help to finance healthcare in the Netherlands. The country is a strong performer in mental health – many GP practices employ primary care psychologists. In our recent research study, we asked over 1,100 expats worldwide about how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected their mental health. 38% felt the quality of their mental health has declined during the COVID-19 pandemic. Also only 10% of respondents said they felt “confident” about the professional mental health resources available in the country where they live and work.

Japan

Coming in tenth place in the World Health Organization’s global study, Japan enjoys a high standard of healthcare that helps the country to achieve enviable life expectancies. The statutory health insurance system (SHIS) covers more than 98% of Japan’s population, while a separate system for those in poverty picks up the rest, proving itself as one of the countries with best healthcare in the world.

Japan’s statutory health insurance covers the vast majority of treatments, including mental health care, hospice care and most dental care. The idea of general practice is a recent one – most healthcare happens in privately-owned specialist clinics.

Luxembourg

Along with other innovative nations such as the USA, Luxembourg is often mentioned in lists of the most medically advanced countries. It’s a country that’s home to a large health technology sector that, together with its tech-literate population, makes eHealth development a priority.

Luxembourg comes 16th place in the World Health Organization’s efficiency rankings and 7th in the Euro Health Consumer Index 2018. It’s also one of the wealthiest countries in Europe, which helps – 5.44% of all employees’ gross income is deducted for healthcare.

Want to know more about how healthcare works for expats in these places? Explore our medical network to find providers.

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Doctors formed an essential part of an effective response to the COVID-19 pandemic

Healthcare during the COVID-19 pandemic

During the 20th century the world has made an enormous progress in health. Health achievements in the last 50 years have been remarkable; global life expectancy has increased more in this period of time than in the preceding 5,000 years. Immunisation programmes around the globe, together with the antenatal care for women, have led to massive improvement in healthcare.

Unsurprisingly, the healthcare was affected badly by the pandemic. The pandemic has overwhelmed healthcare systems around the world, having a knock-on effect on the diagnosis and treatment of other diseases. The impact of COVID-19 on measles, polio, malaria, HIV, and tuberculosis are a tremendous amount for any health system to handle. However, the pandemic has also interrupted routine care for chronic diseases such as diabetes and hypertension, reproductive health services for mothers and their infants, and neglected tropical disease control programs such as trachoma and leishmaniasis, further heightening the stress on health systems globally.

According to the Economist’s Global Liveability Index 2021, healthcare conditions have worsened markedly in Prague (Czech Republic), Athens (Greece) and Jakarta (Indonesia), where the COVID-19 case count was rising at the time of the survey. This added stress on the healthcare sector, making it more difficult to get a hospital bed and access to quality healthcare services. By contrast, the US city of Honolulu witnessed a rise in its healthcare level. Over half of Hawaii’s residents have now received at least one dose of a vaccine. Positivity rates have also reduced, thereby imposing a much lower stress on the city’s healthcare infrastructure. The Spanish cities of Barcelona and Madrid (capital) coped better in terms of the stress on their healthcare systems compared with the previous wave of COVID-19.

The global pandemic has demonstrated how interconnected the world is and the enormous impact that one infectious disease can have on all other aspects of our health. Tackling COVID-19 means not only stopping the spread of the virus itself, but also addressing the many indirect health consequences. In a world where outbreaks of emerging infectious diseases are at an unprecedented rate, we need to build strong health systems to address epidemics while continuing to provide vital, routine to all care as safely as possible.

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Types of healthcare systems globally

Every country has different approach to healthcare and the medical system for prevention and cure. While each model is distinct in and of itself, most countries don’t adhere strictly to a single model; rather, most create their own hybrids that involve features of several.

Many countries have a single-payer healthcare that is universal and funded by the government. The government removes all competition in the market to keep costs low and standardise benefits. The national health service controls what “in-network” providers can do and what they can charge. Funded by taxes, there are no out-of-pocket fees for patients or any cost-sharing. This system is used by the UK, Russia, UAE, Spain, Hong Kong and other countries.

Another healthcare system option is where employers and employees are responsible for funding their health insurance system through “sickness funds” created by payroll deductions. Providers and hospitals are generally private, though insurers are public. In some instances, there is a single insurer (France, Korea). Other countries, like Germany and the Czech Republic, have multiple competing insurers. It is also used some employer-based healthcare plans in the U.S. In this article, we explain why healthcare in the U.S. is so expensive.

A third popular option is the national health insurance model is driven by private providers, but the payments come from a government-run insurance program that every citizen pays into. Essentially, the national health insurance model is universal insurance that doesn’t make a profit or deny claims. In this case, some citizens have private health insurance, some may receive subsidised public healthcare, while some are not insured at all. It is used in China and Japan among others.

The out-of-pocket model is the most common model in less-developed areas and countries where there aren’t enough financial resources to create a medical system like the three models above. In this model, patients must pay for their procedures out of pocket. It is used by Congo, Ethiopia and some other countries around the world.

Healthcare will continue to be a major concern when the COVID-19 pandemic end. After all, there is a need to have a meaningful conversation on necessary reforms that involves providers, systems, payers, and the government. That conversation should include a thorough examination of the strengths and weaknesses of these global models so they can inform new healthcare policies and ultimately build a model that can work for everyone.

Thinking of moving abroad in 2021?

With the end of the pandemic in sight, there has never been a better time to think about starting a new life. In 2021, we have created a guide with a list of best places to live and move abroad for expats, and we have considered healthcare as one of the biggest factors when you make a move. Wherever you decide to move, just make sure you have the confidence of global health insurance. At William Russell, we have been providing worldwide health cover for 30 years, helping expats like you and their families to settle into their new homes. Speak to us today to find out more about how global health insurance could support you.

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