Health Policy Manag.  2021 Dec;31(4):508-517. 10.4332/KJHPA.2021.31.4.508.

Changes in Health Care Utilization during the COVID-19 Pandemic

  • 1Healthcare System Improvement Department, Health Insurance Review & Assessment Service, Wonju, Korea


After the first case of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) in January 2020, Korea has experienced three waves in 2020. This study aimed to analyze changes in health care utilization according to the period of the 1st to 3rd waves of the COVID-19 pandemic.
We analyzed 3,354,469,401 national health insurance claims from 59,104 medical facilities between 2017 and 2020. Observed-to-expected ratios (O:E ratio) with data from 2017 to 2019 as expected values and data from 2020 as observed values were obtained to analyze changes in medical utilization. T-test was used to test whether the difference of observed and expected values was statistically significant.
In 2020, the O:E ratio was 0.894, indicating a decrease in health care utilization overall during the pandemic. The O:E ratio of the 1st wave was 0.832, which was lower than those of the second (0.886) and third (0.873) waves. Health care utilization decreased relatively more among outpatient, women, children and adolescents, and health insurance patients. And health care utilization decreased more in small medical facilities and in Daegu and Gyeongbuk during the first wave. During the pandemic, the O:E ratios of respiratory diseases were 0.486-0.694, while chronic diseases and mental diseases were more than 1.0.
Health care utilization decreased during the COVID-19 pandemic overall, and there were differences by COVID-19 waves, and by the characteristics of patients and medical facilities. It is necessary to understand the cause of changes in health care utilization in order to cope with the prolonged COVID-19 pandemic.


COVID-19; Pandemic; Inpatients; Outpatients
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