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Healthcare Operations Research

Optimization and simulation for problems in healthcare and hospitals

Operations research (OR) is a discipline that applies mathematical modeling to enable better decision making and has been applied to many problems in healthcare.

Books on Operations Research

Two of the most common OR methods are mathematical optimization and discrete event simulation. The Determining the Size and Skill-Mix of a Nursing Resource Team and the Simulation Modeling for the Planning of Bed Capacities LKS-CHART projects respectively use these two methods.

Mathematical optimization focus:

  • Operations Research by Wayne L. Winston

  • Introduction to Operations Research by Frederick S. Hillier and Gerald J. Lieberman

  • Production and Operations Analysis by Steven Nahmias and Tava Lennon Olsen, a more application-oriented book that introduces optimization in the context of problems such as capacity planning, inventory control, scheduling, and facility location.

Discrete event simulation focus:

  • Simulation Modeling and Analysis by Averill M. Law

  • Discrete-event System Simulation by Jerry Banks and John S. Carson


General Resources on Healthcare Operations Research

  • Taxonomic classification of planning decisions in health care: this article describes a taxonomy for classifying the resource planning decisions that arise in the context of health services, and provides references to papers that study each decision problem in depth.

  • Operations Research and Health Care: A Handbook of Methods and Applications by Margaret L. Brandeau, François Sainfort, and William P. Pierskalla (eds.)

  • Handbook of Healthcare Operations Management by Brian T. Denton (ed.)

  • Patient Flow by Randolph Hall (ed.): in particular, chapter 9 by Jacobson et al provides a historical overview of the application of discrete event simulation in healthcare.


Research papers by application domain


Operating room planning and scheduling:

  • Cardoen, B., Demeulemeester, E., & Beliën, J. (2010). Operating room planning and scheduling: A literature review. European journal of operational research, 201(3), 921-932.

  • Blake, J. T., & Donald, J. (2002). Mount Sinai hospital uses integer programming to allocate operating room time. Interfaces, 32(2), 63-73.


Emergency department simulation:

  • Paul, S. A., Reddy, M. C., & DeFlitch, C. J. (2010). A systematic review of simulation studies investigating emergency department overcrowding. Simulation, 86(8-9), 559-571.

  • Brenner, S., Zeng, Z., Liu, Y., Wang, J., Li, J., & Howard, P. K. (2010). Modeling and analysis of the emergency department at University of Kentucky Chandler Hospital using simulations. Journal of emergency nursing, 36(4), 303-310.


Nurse staffing & scheduling:

  • Burke, E. K., De Causmaecker, P., Berghe, G. V., & Van Landeghem, H. (2004). The state of the art of nurse rostering. Journal of scheduling, 7(6), 441-499.

  • Harper, P. R., Powell, N. H., & Williams, J. E. (2010). Modelling the size and skill-mix of hospital nursing teams. Journal of the Operational Research Society, 61(5), 768-779.

Bed capacity planning:

  • Green, L. V. (2002). How many hospital beds? INQUIRY: The Journal of Health Care Organization, Provision, and Financing, 39(4), 400-412.

  • Harper, P. R., & Shahani, A. K. (2002). Modelling for the planning and management of bed capacities in hospitals. Journal of the Operational Research Society, 53(1), 11-18.

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