To evaluate the achievement of health care services in Korea independent of other socioeconomic factors, we observed the time trend of avoidable death between 1983 and 2004. A list of avoidable causes of death was constructed based on the European Community Atlas of "Avoidable Death". We calculated sex- and age-standardized mortality rates of Korean aged 1-64 yr using data of the Korea National Statistical Office. The avoidable mortality rate (per 100,000 persons) decreased from 225 to 84 in men and from 122 to 41 in women. Accordingly, the proportion of avoidable deaths among all classifiable deaths was reduced by 8.1% in men and 6.4% in women. However, mortality rates from some preventable causes such as ischemic heart disease and malignant neoplasms of lung, breast, cervix, and colorectum have been on the rise. Mortality preventable by appropriate medical care showed the greatest reduction (by 77.8%), while the mortality preventable by primary prevention showed the least reduction (by 50.0%). These findings suggest that health care service has significantly contributed to the improvement of health in Korea. However, more effective intervention programs would be needed given the less reduction in mortality avoidable by primary or secondary prevention than expected and unexpectedly increasing mortality from several preventable causes.