Design of appointment systems for preanesthesia evaluation clinics to minimize patient waiting times: a review of computer simulation and patient survey studies

F Dexter
Anesthesia and Analgesia 1999, 89 (4): 925-31
Anesthesiologists can use the science of clinic scheduling to design appointment systems for preanesthesia evaluation clinics. The principal reasons reported for inappropriately [or arguably unethically] long patient waiting times are provider tardiness, lack of patient punctuality, patient no-shows, and improperly designed appointment systems. However, the fundamental reason why anesthesia clinics have such long patient waiting times is because of their relatively long mean (and consequently standard deviation) of consultation times. If commonly applied valuations of provider idle time to patient waiting time are used in anesthesia clinics, appointment intervals will be sufficiently brief that the mean patient waiting time will be at least the mean consultation time or half an hour. Patients will be dissatisfied with this level of service. Therefore, efforts to decrease the mean patient waiting time in anesthesia clinics should focus foremost on minimizing the mean consultation time and its variability, which can most likely be achieved by assuring that providers have rapid access to relevant clinical information, including external medical records, surgical dictations, etc. Anesthesiologists managing anesthesia clinics may find it valuable to apply other interventions to decrease patient waiting times. Scheduling of preanesthesia evaluation and surgical clinics should be coordinated to assure patient punctuality. Providers should be on time for the start of their sessions. If an add-on patient cannot be seen during a scheduled clinic session, because all appointment times have been assigned to other patients, the add-on patient should be seen by a different provider or at the end of the regularly scheduled clinic session. Mean consultation times should be measured accurately for each provider. Substantial provider idle time should be expected. Appropriate values for breaks, appointment intervals, and percentage no-shows should be determined by computer simulation, using parameters appropriate for each provider and anesthesia clinic. Finally, traditional efforts at making waiting for a consultation tolerable should be made.

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