The shift from inpatient care to outpatient care in Switzerland since 2017: Policy processes and the role of evidence

Health Policy. 2021 Apr;125(4):512-519. doi: 10.1016/j.healthpol.2021.01.012. Epub 2021 Jan 30.


The shift from inpatient care to the ambulatory sector is a central aspiration of European health systems. Despite demonstrated benefits, health reforms have struggled to realize their potential. In this context, we discuss recent hospital sector reforms in Switzerland and analyze the content, process, and role of evidence in the recent introduction of policies to substitute inpatient care with ambulatory care. The prevailing payment system incentivized hospitals to provide unnecessary and costly inpatient services, but federal reform on tariff structures was deemed politically unfeasible. Instead, driven by the pressure to contain costs, cantonal and federal health authorities began to deny reimbursement for selected inpatient procedures in 2017. These regulatory measures were effective in reducing inpatient admissions and health care costs. This case study illustrates that clear, simple messages about hospital sector reform can raise awareness of the need for change. However, the evidence used in the policy process was limited and not critically reviewed. Stakeholders used long-standing international comparisons of inpatient substitution potential to legitimize policies, but not to develop them. The analysis restates the importance of inter- and intranational comparative analyses and institutions such as health observatories and suggests aligning health system governance more proactively with international developments.

Keywords: Ambulatory surgical procedures; Evidence use; Government agency; Health care reform; Health policy; Reimbursement mechanisms.

MeSH terms

  • Ambulatory Care*
  • Health Care Costs
  • Humans
  • Inpatients*
  • Policy
  • Switzerland