In a survey of 67,774 patient days in 27 Swedish acute care hospitals, an indwelling urinary tract catheter (IUTC) was in place during 12% of patient days. There were marked differences between services (from 2% in rheumatology to 49% in urology), but also between hospitals for the same type of service (general surgery, internal medicine, gynecology, orthopaedic surgery) concerning proportion IUTC days, average duration of catheterization and the indications for IUTC use. The great local variation in IUTC usage for a particular service was usually not correlated with type of hospital (district, county, or regional/teaching), ie, with the mix of patients studied. We propose that the results mainly reflect a variable local impact of infection control and that a much more restrictive use of IUTCs is possible in many wards. This condition would imply a considerable potential for reducing the incidences of urinary tract infection and bacteremia and thus, mortality among hospitalized patients in Sweden.