Health Systems

, Volume 5, Issue 3, pp 192–212 | Cite as

Comparing comparables: an approach to accurate cross-country comparisons of health systems for effective healthcare planning and policy guidance

  • Mário Amorim Lopes
  • Carlos Soares
  • Álvaro Almeida
  • Bernardo Almada-Lobo
Original Article


With rising healthcare costs, using health personnel and resources efficiently and effectively is critical. International cross-country and simple worker-to-population ratio comparisons are frequently used for improving the efficiency of health systems, planning of health human resources and guiding policy changes. These comparisons are made between countries typically of the same continental region. However, if used imprudently, inconsistencies arising from frail comparisons of health systems may outweigh the positive benefits brought by new policy insights. In this work, we propose a different approach to international health system comparisons. We present a methodology to group similar countries in terms of mortality, morbidity, utilisation levels, and human and physical resources, which are all factors that influence health gains. Instead of constructing an absolute rank or comparing against the average, the method finds countries that share similar ground, upon which more reliable comparisons can then be conducted, including performance analysis. We apply this methodology using data from the World Health Organization’s Health for All database, and we present some interesting empirical relationships between indicators that may provide new insights into how such information can be used to promote better healthcare planning and policy guidance.


health systems comparative analysis data mining clustering analysis health policy 


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Copyright information

© The OR Society 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Mário Amorim Lopes
    • 1
  • Carlos Soares
    • 2
  • Álvaro Almeida
    • 1
  • Bernardo Almada-Lobo
    • 1
  1. 1.Faculdade de Engenharia da Universidade do PortoPortoPortugal
  2. 2.Faculdade de Economia da Universidade do PortoPortoPortugal

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