Healthcare organizations face challenges in efficiently accommodating increased patient demand with limited resources and capacity. The modern reimbursement environment prioritizes the maximization of operational efficiency and the reduction of unnecessary costs (i.e., waste) while maintaining or improving quality. As healthcare organizations adapt, significant pressures are placed on leaders to make difficult operational and budgetary decisions. In lieu of hard data, decision makers often base these decisions on subjective information. Discrete event simulation (DES), a computerized method of imitating the operation of a real-world system (e.g., healthcare delivery facility) over time, can provide decision makers with an evidence-based tool to develop and objectively vet operational solutions prior to implementation.
DES in healthcare commonly focuses on (1) improving patient flow, (2) managing bed capacity, (3) scheduling staff, (4) managing patient admission and scheduling procedures, and (5) using ancillary resources (e.g., labs, pharmacies).
This article describes applicable scenarios, outlines DES concepts, and describes the steps required for development. An original DES model developed to examine crowding and patient flow for staffing decision making at an urban academic emergency department serves as a practical example.