Annual prevalence of unmet healthcare need in Thailand: evidence from national household surveys between 2011 and 2019

Int J Equity Health. 2021 Nov 12;20(1):244. doi: 10.1186/s12939-021-01578-0.


Background: Extending Universal Health Coverage (UHC) requires identifying and addressing unmet healthcare need and its causes to improve access to essential health services. Unmet need is a useful monitoring indicator to verify if low incidence of catastrophic health spending is not a result of foregone services due to unmet needs. This study assesses the trend, between 2011 and 2019, of prevalence and reasons of unmet healthcare need and identifies population groups who had unmet needs.

Method: The unmet healthcare need module in the Health and Welfare Survey (HWS) 2011-2019 was used for analysis. HWS is a nationally representative household survey conducted by the National Statistical Office biennially. There are more than 60,000 respondents in each round of survey. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) standard questions on unmet need and reasons behind were applied for outpatient (OP), inpatient (IP) and dental services in the past 12 months. Data from samples were weighted to represent the Thai population. Univariate analysis was applied to assess unmet need across socioeconomic profiles.

Results: The annual prevalence of unmet need between 2011 and 2019 was lower than 3%. The prevalence was 1.3-1.6% for outpatient services, 0.9% - 1.1% for dental services, and lower than 0.2% for inpatient care. A small increasing trend was observed on dental service unmet need, from 0.9% in 2011 to 1.1% in 2019. The poor, the elderly and people living in urban areas had higher unmet needs than their counterparts. Long waiting times was the main reason for unmet need, while cost of treatment was not an issue.

Conclusion: The low level of unmet need at less than 3% was lower than OECD average (28%), and was the result of UHC since 2002. Regular monitoring using the national representative household survey to estimate annual prevalence and reasons for unmet need can guide policy to sustain and improve access by certain population groups.

Keywords: Access to health care; Inequity; Thailand; Universal health coverage; Unmet need.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Ambulatory Care
  • Health Services Accessibility*
  • Health Services Needs and Demand*
  • Humans
  • Prevalence
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Thailand / epidemiology