Document Type



Available under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial Share Alike 4.0 International Licence


Health care sciences and services, Hospital administration

Publication Details

Operations Research for Health Care


Timely access to health services has become increasingly difficult due to demographic change and aging people growth. These create new heterogeneous challenges for society and healthcare systems. Congestion at acute hospitals has reached unprecedented levels due to the unavailability of acute beds. As a consequence, patients in need of treatment endure prolonged waiting times as a decision whether to admit, transfer, or send them home is made. These long waiting times often result in boarding patients in different places in the hospital. This threatens patient safety and diminishes the service quality while increasing treatment costs. It is argued in the extant literature that improved communication and enhanced patient flow is often more effective than merely increasing hospital capacity. Achieving this effective coordination is challenged by the uncertainties in care demand, the availability of accurate information, the complexity of inter-hospital dynamics and decision times. A hybrid simulation approach is presented in this paper, which aims to offer hospital managers a chance at investigating the patient boarding problem. Integrating ‘System Dynamic’ and ‘Discrete Event Simulation’ enables the user to ease the complexity of patient flow at both macro and micro levels. ‘Design of Experiment’ and ‘Data Envelopment Analysis’ are integrated with the simulation in order to assess the operational impact of various management interventions efficiently. A detailed implementation of the approach is demonstrated on an emergency department (ED) and Acute Medical Unit (AMU) of a large Irish hospital, which serves over 50,000 patients annually. Results indicate that improving transfer rates between hospital units has a significant positive impact. It reduces the number of boarding patients and has the potential to increase access by up to 40% to the case study organization. However, poor communication and coordination, human factors, downstream capacity constraints, shared resources and services between units may affect this access. Furthermore, an increase in staff numbers is required to sustain the acceptable level of service delivery.