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Do the waiting‐time guarantees in the Scandinavian countries empower patients?

Ulrika Winblad (Uppsala University, Uppsala, Sweden)
Karsten Vrangbæk (AKF Danish Institute of Governmental Research, Copenhagen, Denmark)
Katarina Östergren (Norwegian School of Economics and Business Administration, Bergen, Norway)

International Journal of Public Sector Management

ISSN: 0951-3558

Article publication date: 1 June 2010




This paper aims to analyse waiting‐time guarantees in the three Scandinavian countries (Denmark, Norway, and Sweden) and to assess whether their current policy designs have strengthened the role of patients in their healthcare systems.


The paper compares official documents and legislation in the three countries. The main findings are that waiting‐time guarantees have generally empowered patients in the Scandinavian health systems. This empowerment is stronger in Denmark and Norway, where formal waiting‐time guarantee rules are applied, than in Sweden, where the guarantee is based on the “softer” regulatory instrument of agreements. While patients are formally empowered in all three countries, and care providers are gradually adjusting to this situation, it is also clear that the practical conditions for empowering patients are not fully in place. The issue of information dissemination is particularly important.

Research limitations/implications

Assessments are based on current regulatory configurations in the three countries, where the process of adapting and implementing the policies is ongoing. These assessments are based on a comparative analysis of the institutional designs. There is no detailed information on how patients use the waiting‐time guarantee.

Practical implications

It is important to consider carefully the information that patients have available in exercising their right to choose healthcare as well as the incentives for providing such information to them.


This is the first systematic comparison of waiting‐time guarantees in the three countries. It is a starting‐point for further research on the introduction of waiting‐time guarantees in public health systems.



Winblad, U., Vrangbæk, K. and Östergren, K. (2010), "Do the waiting‐time guarantees in the Scandinavian countries empower patients?", International Journal of Public Sector Management, Vol. 23 No. 4, pp. 353-363.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2010, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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