Objective: This study aimed to analyze the Austrian health care system using the ecology of care model. Our secondary aim was to compare data from Austria with those available from other countries.Design: 3508 interviews employing a 30-item questionnaire related to the utilization of the health care system including demographic factors were conducted. Participants were chosen by a Random Digital Dialing procedure. Further, a literature review of studies of other countries use of the ecology of care model was conducted.Main outcome measures: Austria has one of the highest utilization of health care services in any of the assessed categories. The comparison with the literature review shows that Austria has the highest utilization of specialists working in the outpatient sector as well as the highest hospitalization rates. Taiwan and Korea have comparable utilization patterns. Canada, Sweden, and Norway are countries with lower utilization patterns, and the U.S. and Japan are intermediate.Conclusion: In Austria and similarly organized countries, high utilization of all health care services can be observed, in particular, the utilization of specialists and hospitalizations. The over-utilization of all levels of health care in Austria may be due to the lack of a clear demarcation line between the primary and secondary levels of care, and the presence of universal health coverage, which also allows for unrestricted and undirected access to all levels of care. Previous studies have shown that comparable countries lack the health benefits of a strong primary care system with its coordination function.Key pointsIn Austria and similarly organized countries, there appears to be high utilization of health care in general, as well as with particular utilization of specialists and hospitalizations.The high utilization of all levels of care in Austria may be the result of competition, lack of a clear demarcation line between the primary and secondary level of care, and the presence of universal health coverage.Pathways between primary and secondary care should be strengthened as previous studies have shown that comparable countries lack the health benefits of strong primary care and its function for health care coordination.
Keywords: Austria; Health services research; comparison; developed countries; ecology of medical care.