An international team that studied Israel’s medical services after the country became a member of the Organization for Economic and Development has stated in a preliminary report that it became one of the best healthcare systems in the world since the National Health Insurance Law went into effect in 1995.

The team, consisting of OECD and external experts, arrived a year ago and visited the country’s five largest hospitals, community health fund clinics in Jewish development towns and Arab villages, and a baby care center in an unrecognized Beduin town in the Negev, also meeting with representatives of patient rights organizations in the Arab and Ethiopian Jewish sectors and with heads of professional medical groups.

With their work completed, the final report will be published on November 26 when OECD officials will again come to Israel to attend a conference on health systems and present their findings in a press conference.

The government allocated health funding at relatively low levels during years of tight cost control with relatively low demand, attributed to a young and healthy population. Yet Israel made it possible to build a high quality health system, the OECD said.

Israel’s health system is considered especially good for its early diagnosis of chronic diseases that prevents unnecessary hospitalization, the European experts said.

For example, diabetes has been diagnosed early, lowering the rate of complications that would have required hospitalization compared to average OECD rates.

In addition, primary care in Israel benefited significantly from the immigration of large numbers of doctors and nurses from the former Soviet Union in the 1990s, the OECD said. But because these professionals are beginning to retire, it is important for the country to ensure that young doctors and nurses will choose primary care and be trained appropriately.

While medical data from community health fund clinics are assessed by the insurers, this trend should be expanded to monitor improvements in care, the OECD team said. They also urged that hospitals be encouraged to improve the quality of their treatment, and that hospital data must become more accessible to health system professionals in the community.

In addition, there must be more competition on quality among health funds and providers of care, they said.

Despite the high marks, there is a complex mix of gaps in the health system between the rich and the poor, the center and the periphery, and various ethnic groups, said the OECD. More equity and accessibility will require additional efforts.

The OECD also bemoaned the growing use of private medical care, which makes it harder for the economically disadvantaged to enjoy the best healthcare.

Deputy Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman welcomed the report for its praise of the system, adding that those issues that were criticized must be improved.

“We will not disregard these. I asked the [Health Ministry] director- general, Prof. Ronni Gamzu, to present me a program for applying the recommendations in the report,” he said.

Gamzu also expressed his satisfaction with the OECD conclusions and promised to work toward repairing the faults that remain.

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