Dimensions of health system reform

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85 Scopus citations


During recent years there has been a growth of worldwide interest in health system reform. Countries at all levels of economic development are engaged in a creative search for better ways of organizing and financing health care, while promoting the goals of equity, effectiveness, and efficiency. Together with economic, political, and ideological reasons, this search has been fueled by the need to find answers to the complexities posed by the epidemiologic transition, whereby many nations are facing the simultaneous burdens of old, unresolved problems and new, emerging challenges. In order to better understand reform attempts, it is necessary to develop a clear conception of the object of reform: the health system. This paper presents the health system as a set of relationships among five major groups of actors: the health care providers, the population, the state as a collective mediator, the organizations that generate resources, and the other sectors that produce services with health effects. The relationships among providers, population, and the state form the basis for a typology of health care modalities. The type and number of modalities present in a country make it possible to characterize its health system. In the last part, the paper proposes that health system reform operates at four policy levels: systemic, which deals with the institutional arrangements for regulation, financing, and delivery of services; programmatic, which specifies the priorities of the system, by defining a universal package of health care interventions; organizational, which is concerned with the actual production of services by focusing on issues of quality assurance and technical efficiency; and instrumental, which generates the institutional intelligence for improving system performance through information, research, technological innovation, and human resource development. The dimensions of reform offer a repertoire of policy options, which need to be enriched by cross-national comparison of experiences and rigorous social experimentation. Maybe then reform will be a more systematic effort, and nations will be better able to learn from each other.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)19-34
Number of pages16
JournalHealth policy
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 31 1994
Externally publishedYes


  • Health transition
  • International comparisons
  • Public/private mix
  • Reform
  • Systems

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health Policy


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