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Linda Green on OR in Healthcare

Linda Green of Columbia University was here (Auckland) today and gave a talk on the use of operations research in the health care industry. Most of her presentation was on simple queueing models to gain insight into capacity and scheduling for healthcare. Some of this work has recently been covered in Business Week. One simple “Queueing 101” result that people just don’t understand is that a queueing system with 85% utilization, say, is not 15% inefficient. In fact, this value is the rule of thumb many hospital administrators use to determine optimal intensive care unit (and other hospital unit) sizing. But such a utilization can lead to 10% or more of the patients arriving with no beds for them! The exact number depends on the variability and other statistical measures of the arrival and service processes but aiming for 95% utilization (as some hospitals and districts do) is foolish and dangerous: it will lead inevitably to many turned away (or choosing to leave without being seen, leading to more critical later issues). The world would be a much better place if more people understood some of the basic insights that OR provides.

{ 2 } Comments

  1. Francisco Marco-Serrano | March 26, 2007 at 8:53 am | Permalink

    Dear Sir,

    Regarding hospital efficiency, when I was at the Faculty I remember reading loads of material about health economics and the use of non-parametric techniques for analysing hospital efficiency. I never thought of queuing theory to be used in that area (me daft!).

    I think it should be of interest to health economist to learn a little bit of queueing theory to apply a joint analysis, since efficiency analysis was always seen as “static” (no queues).


    F Marco-Serrano

  2. Alexandra | April 11, 2007 at 1:15 pm | Permalink


    Thanks for the nice article. I’m studying right now and I promise I’ll stop wondering if the things I’m learning are relevant!