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Operations Research Methods Improve Chemotherapy Patient Appointment Scheduling

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Background: Clinical complexity, scheduling restrictions, and outdated manual booking processes resulted in frequent clerical rework, long waitlists for treatment, and late appointment notification for patients at a chemotherapy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: 2012-12-01

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