Decreasing patient length of stay via new flexible exam room allocation policies in ambulatory care clinics

Abstract

To address prolonged lengths of stay (LOS) in ambulatory care clinics, we analyze the impact of implementing flexible and dynamic policies for assigning exam rooms to providers. In contrast to the traditional approaches of assigning specific rooms to each provider or pooling rooms among all practitioners, we characterize the impact of alternate compromise policies that have not been explored in previous studies. Since ambulatory care patients may encounter multiple different providers in a single visit, room allocation can be determined separately for each encounter accordingly. For the first phase of the visit, conducted by the medical assistant, we define a dynamic room allocation policy that adjusts room assignments based on the current state of the clinic. For the second phase of the visit, conducted by physicians, we define a series of room sharing policies which vary based on two dimensions, the number of shared rooms and the number of physicians sharing each room. Using a discrete event simulation model of an outpatient cardiovascular clinic, we analyze the benefits and costs associated with the proposed room allocation policies. Our findings show that it is not necessary to fully share rooms among providers in order to reduce patient LOS and physician idle time. Instead, most of the benefit of pooling can be achieved by implementation of a compromise room allocation approach, limiting the need for significant organizational changes within the clinic. Also, in order to achieve most of the benefits of room allocation policies, it is necessary to increase flexibility in the two dimensions simultaneously. These findings are shown to be consistent in settings with alternate patient scheduling and distinctions between physicians.

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Correspondence to Jacqueline Griffin.

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Vahdat, V., Griffin, J. & Stahl, J.E. Decreasing patient length of stay via new flexible exam room allocation policies in ambulatory care clinics. Health Care Manag Sci 21, 492–516 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10729-017-9407-5

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Keywords

  • Room allocation policies
  • Outpatient clinics
  • Discrete event simulation
  • Ambulatory care
  • Patient length of stay