Background: Internationally, different organizational models are used for providing out-of-hours care. The aim of this study was to assess prevailing models in order to identify their potential strengths and weaknesses.
Methods: An international web-based survey was done in 2007 in a sample of purposefully selected key informants from 25 western countries. The questions concerned prevailing organizational models for out-of-hours care, the most dominant model in each country, perceived weaknesses, and national plans for changes in out-of-hours care.
Results: A total of 71 key informants from 25 countries provided answers. In most countries several different models existed alongside each other. The Accident and Emergency department was the organizational model most frequently used. Perceived weaknesses of this model concerned the coordination and continuity of care, its efficiency and accessibility. In about a third of the countries, the rota group was the most dominant organizational model for out-of-hours care. A perceived weakness of this model was lowered job satisfaction of physicians. The GP cooperative existed in a majority of the participating countries; no weaknesses were mentioned with respect to this model. Most of the countries had plans to change the out-of-hours care, mainly toward large scale organizations.
Conclusion: GP cooperatives combine size of scale advantages with organizational features of strong primary care, such as high accessibility, continuity and coordination of care. While specific patients require other organizational models, the co-existence of different organizational models for out-of-hours care in a country may be less efficient for health systems.