The U.S. Has Fewer Physicians and Hospital Beds Per Capita Than Italy and Other Countries Overwhelmed by COVID-19

A new analysis and chart collection finds that the U.S. has fewer hospital beds and practicing physicians per capita than many similarly large and wealthy countries with health care systems already strained by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Compared to Italy and Spain, two countries in which hospitals have already been overwhelmed by an influx of COVID-19 patients, the U.S. has fewer practicing physicians per capita – 2.6 per 1,000 people, compared to 4.0 in Italy and 3.9 in Spain – but more licensed nurses. While the U.S. has a higher number of total hospital employees than most comparable countries, nearly half of that workforce is comprised of non-clinical staff who are not directly involved in delivering care.

The U.S. also lags behind comparable countries in hospital beds per capita, with 2.8 hospital beds for every 1,000 people, a capacity similar to that of Canada and the United Kingdom, but less than other similarly wealthy countries. Italy, the country with the highest number of COVID-19-related deaths to date, has 3.2 hospital beds per 1,000 people – only slightly more than the U.S. South Korea, which has reportedly slowed the rate of new infection, has 12 beds per 1,000 people. Some data suggest, however, that the U.S. may have more ICU beds per person than many comparable countries. 

The analysis also includes charts on coverage and affordability barriers that may limit access to care, as well as the health of at-risk groups. Compared to other large, wealthy countries, the U.S. has a higher disease burden, attributable to cardiovascular disease, chronic respiratory disease, and diabetes, all conditions associated with more serious outcomes for COVID-19 patients.

The chart collection and analysis is part of the Peterson-KFF Health System Tracker, an online information hub dedicated to monitoring and assessing the performance of the U.S. health system. For more data, analysis, polling and journalism on the COVID-19 pandemic, visit our special resource page on kff.org.