Operations Research Methods Improve Chemotherapy Patient Appointment Scheduling

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Abstract:

Background: Clinical complexity, scheduling restrictions, and outdated manual booking processes resulted in frequent clerical rework, long waitlists for treatment, and late appointment notification for patients at a chemotherapy clinic in a large cancer center in British Columbia, Canada. A 17-month study was conducted to address booking, scheduling and workload issues and to develop, implement, and evaluate solutions.

Methods: A review of scheduling practices included process observation and mapping, analysis of historical appointment data, creation of a new performance metric (final appointment notification lead time), and a baseline patient satisfaction survey. Process improvement involved discrete event simulation to evaluate alternative booking practice scenarios, development of an optimization-based scheduling tool to improve scheduling efficiency, and change management for implementation of process changes. Results were evaluated through analysis of appointment data, a follow-up patient survey, and staff surveys.

Results: Process review revealed a two-stage scheduling process. Long waitlists and late notification resulted from an inflexible first-stage process. The second-stage process was time consuming and tedious. After a revised, more flexible first-stage process and an automated second-stage process were implemented, the median percentage of appointments exceeding the final appointment notification lead time target of one week was reduced by 57% and median waitlist size decreased by 83%. Patient surveys confirmed increased satisfaction while staff feedback reported reduced stress levels.

Conclusion: Significant operational improvements can be achieved through process redesign combined with operations research methods.

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: December 1, 2012

More about this publication?
  • Published monthly, The Joint Commission Journal on Quality and Patient Safety is a peer-reviewed publication dedicated to providing health professionals with the information they need to promote the quality and safety of health care. The Joint Commission Journal on Quality and Patient Safety invites original manuscripts on the development, adaptation, and/or implementation of innovative thinking, strategies, and practices in improving quality and safety in health care. Case studies, program or project reports, reports of new methodologies or new applications of methodologies, research studies on the effectiveness of improvement interventions, and commentaries on issues and practices are all considered.

    Also known as Joint Commission Journal on Quality Improvement and Joint Commission Journal on Quality and Safety
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