Public or private primary health care: A comparison of efficiency and patient satisfaction

Héðinn Sigurðsson, Sunna Gestsdóttir, Sigríður Halldórsdóttir, Kristjan G. Guðmundsson


The organization of health care is one of the most complex present day challenges. Like other countries that run socialized health care systems, Icelanders face the question of the role of private enterprise in health care. The objective of this study was two-fold: to compare the cost of 17 private and state-run health care centers in the metropolitan area, and to compare consumer satisfaction related to these. At the beginning of Icelandic settlement, there were statutory laws decreeing that community services should be provided for those in need. By the Health Care Act in 1973, the Icelandic health care system fell under the Nordic welfare society with equal access and a tight safety net. The results show that the private health care centers had a low cost per work unit, but not the lowest. Four to seven state run health care centers had less expenditure per patient than the private centers. The cost of each doctor’s position was highest in one of the private clinics. Patient satisfaction surveys showed that there is no difference in the quality of services between these two different operating modes. A conclusion can be drawn from this study that it is not clear whether private health care improves the use of public funds or increases the quality of services.


Health service research; primary care; public enterprise, private enterprise, health care professionals.

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