NHS waiting lists could fall sharply if hospitals adopted American-style medical practices, a study suggests.
The findings suggest NHS hospitals less efficient
Figures in the British Medical Journal show NHS patients spend much longer in hospital than people treated for the same condition in the United States.
Researchers said there was no evidence to suggest US patients received worse medical care. In fact, studies suggest it is better.
They said the findings showed NHS hospitals can learn from the US.
A study published last year reported that Kaiser Permanente - a not-for-profit private health provider in California - provided better value for money than the NHS.
The findings refuted government claims that the NHS is one of the most efficient health systems in the world and that it gets more for its money than other healthcare providers.
The study showed that Kaiser Permanente had much shorter waiting times, employed many more doctors and provided better care to patients than the NHS.
This is despite the fact that both spend roughly the same amount of money per patient.
The findings led to eight NHS trusts adopting Kaiser Permanente ways of working as part of a pilot project.
They are trying to treat more patients in the community, allowing them to leave hospital much earlier, in a scheme that has the backing of ministers.
The move has been widely criticised by Labour MPs and trade unions.
However, this latest study, which was headed by the director of the Department of Health's strategy unit, suggests the NHS can learn from US health providers.
The researchers looked at how the NHS treated patients over the age of 65 for 11 conditions, including stroke and hip fractures.
They compared it to the way Kaiser Permanente and the publicly-funded US Medicare programme performed.
Longer in hospital
They found that NHS patients spent up to three and a half times longer in hospital than those treated in Kaiser Permanente hospitals and twice as long as those treated on Medicare in California.
Across the US, Medicare patients spent half as long in hospital compared to NHS patients.
"There is scope for acute hospital beds to be used differently in the NHS," the researchers said. "The NHS can learn from Kaiser's approach."
The researchers highlighted the way primary care works closely with hospitals under the Kaiser Permanente model.
They also pointed to the way it encourages patients to take care of themselves and to get help from relatives.
"Patients are enabled to return home by being supported to do as much as possible for themselves.
"By offering advice and support and by managing the expectations of patients and families, Kaiser staff enable hospitals to be used only when necessary," the researchers said.
Health Secretary John Reid welcomed the findings.
"We know that the NHS principles do not apply in the United States and the values and structures of the NHS are different.
"But that doesn't mean that we don't learn anything from a different way of working."