Study: Shorter ER Wait Times Through Smarter Queues

Possibly the only thing more frustrating than finding yourself in the emergency room is finding yourself waiting—and waiting, and waiting—for emergency-room care. So—what if hospitals could shorten wait times simply by changing the way the patients queue up? This was the question posed by Hummy Song, a Wharton assistant professor of operations, information, and decisions, in her recent research. In the paper “The Diseconomies of Queue Pooling: An Empirical Investigation of Emergency Department Length of Stay,” Song and fellow researchers Anita L. Tucker of Brandeis University and Karen L. Murrell of Kaiser Permanente South Sacramento Medical Center offered some surprising findings about trimming wait times, pooled queues versus dedicated queues, and improving patient (and physician) experience.



1. THE QUESTION

What is the most efficient way to handle patients waiting to see a doctor in the ER?

2. TWO OPTIONS


3. THE FINDINGS
The team’s studies showed that dedicated queues led to faster throughput time, for a 40-to-45-minute reduction of time in the ER.


4. THE RATIONALE

“This is counter to what traditional queuing theory would predict,” Song says. But “[w]hen they have these dedicated queues, physicians start feeling a greater sense of ownership and responsibility over those queues of patients. They’re trying to actively think of ways to get people into the beds quicker, so they’re doing things differently.”

5. CONCLUSION
Both patients and healthcare organizations can benefit from Song’s research: With reduced wait times, ERs can see more patients per day without increased resources.


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