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Health Policy. 2000 May;52(1):15-32.

Maximum waiting time - a threat to clinical freedom? Implementation of a policy to reduce waiting times.

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Department of Health and Caring Sciences, University Hospital Uppsala, S-751 85, Uppsala, Sweden.


This article focuses on physicians as implementers of health policy reforms. In 1992, a maximum waiting-time guarantee was introduced in Sweden. Initially the policy was a successful way to come to terms with long waiting times. However, after 2 years the waiting lists started to increase. To understand this development it is important to look at the reactions to the policy among the implementers, i.e. the physicians. Three questions are addressed: Did the implementers understand the intentions and the goals of the reform? Were they able to fulfil the guarantee? And, did they approve of the initiative? The study subjects were chief physicians at the hospital departments involved with the guarantee. Their attitudes towards the policy were ascertained by two surveys. Other material, such as statistics on waiting times, was also used. The study shows that the physicians approved of the guarantee initially. The measures taken in the first years were effective and did not conflict with earlier practice. However, increased demand in combination with economic restraints necessitated new priorities among patient groups. These changes of clinical practice did not coincide with the physicians' professional values and hence they became more critical to the initiative and finally chose to abandon the intentions in the guarantee.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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