'Queuing theory' shows promise in optimizing hospitals’ use of resources

As more hospitals and healthcare systems strive to deliver better-quality care while lowering costs, it is becoming critical that facilities be managed more efficiently.

An Iowa medical center has turned to cloud-based analytics – and a theory based around how to best move people through lines – to better use resources, as reported in a HealthLeaders report.

Kathy Goetz, vice president of perioperative and specialty services at Mercy Medical Center, an 875-bed facility in Des Moines, explained how "queuing theory" informs their strategy for optimizing use of inherently expensive operating rooms:

Queuing theory basically talks about when you have people standing in lines, how do you get them through? If you think about having four tellers at a bank, and you've got five people in one line and seven in another line and three in another line and eight in another line, how do you decide at what point you're going to open up a fifth line? Or are you better to shut down one of the lines and consolidate your resources and have everybody go through three lines?

In the case of operating rooms, the people standing in line are surgeons and patients. The challenge for Mercy Medical Center is to schedule operating rooms to maximize their use while avoiding scheduling conflicts that can result in double-booked rooms, postponed operations, or worse.

What complicates this challenge is that surgeries can vastly differ in length of time: A heart transplant typically takes a bit longer than setting a broken wrist. So  Mercy Medical turned to analytics software to smooth out patient flow in its operating rooms.

While Goetz said that Mercy Medical has just starting the analysis, queuing theory isn't new to healthcare. This white paper from The Institute for Systems Research written in 2007 explores queuing theory applications for healthcare facility waiting time and utilization analysis, system design, and appointment systems.

Topics: Analytics

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