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Why do you keep me waiting?

We often have to wait in line to be served. In healthcare that happens a lot. If you had to wait an hour or more every time you needed something from somewhere would you continue going there? Why or why not? Does queuing have to be  fact of life in healthcare? How long before someone works out it isn’t necessary and offers an alternative? What will happen to those places that fail to keep up?

Although appointment systems are often designed to avoid doctor idle time (without considering patient waiting time), it is possible to reduce patient wait time without significantly increasing doctor idle time.

Picture by Michael Dales


  1. Mark Darvill says:

    The paper, which mostly reviews other research papers rather than providing any actionable information, reaches the same conclusion that we have found, namely that variability in demand and service times mean that simplistic rules are problematic. These problems, together with varying degrees of urgency, also make the use of queuing theory challenging for doctor consultations.

    Where we have been able to apply queuing theory to good effect is with the allocation of resources (i.e. nurses) to the triaging of patients. We determined that the main triage nurse needs a second one to begin triaging as soon as there is more than one person awaiting triage. Failure to follow this rule quickly blows out the time between arrival and triage with an obvious potential to impact negatively on patient safety.

    • Thanks Mark. That is certainly one approach that’s familiar. It’s interesting however that in so many clinics, in so many settings this issue receives hardly any attention. Is healthcare set up primarily for the convenience of providers?

      • Mark Darvill says:

        I wouldn’t go so far as to conclude that but it is an interesting example of double standards that providers get very upset when a patient is late for an appointment yet become defensive and dismissive when they themselves are running late.

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