Original Research

Predicting the Future: Using Simulation Modeling to Forecast Patient Flow on General Medicine Units


BACKGROUND: Hospitals are complex adaptive systems within which multiple components such as patients, practitioners, facilities, and technology interact. A careful approach to optimization of this complex system is needed because any change can result in unexpected deleterious effects. One such approach is discrete event simulation, in which what-if scenarios allow researchers to predict the impact of a proposed change on the system. However, studies illustrating the application of simulation in optimization of general internal medicine (GIM) team inpatient operations are lacking.

METHODS: Administrative data about admissions and discharges, data from a time-motion study, and expert opinion on workflow were used to construct the simulation model. Then, the impact of four changes – aligning medical teams with nursing units, adding a hospitalist team, adding a nursing unit, and adding both a nursing unit and hospitalist team with higher admission volume – were modeled on key hospital operational metrics.

RESULTS: Aligning medical teams with nursing units improved team metrics for aligned teams but shifted patients to unaligned teams. Adding a hospitalist team had little benefit, but adding a nursing unit improved system metrics. Both adding a hospitalist team and a nursing unit would be required to maintain operational metrics with increased patient volume.

CONCLUSION: Using simulation modeling, we provided data on the implications of four possible strategic changes on GIM inpatient units, providers, and patient throughput. Such analyses may be a worthwhile investment to study strategic decisions and make better choices with fewer unintended consequences.

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