Discrete event simulation of emergency department activity: a platform for system-level operations research

Acad Emerg Med. 2004 Nov;11(11):1177-85. doi: 10.1197/j.aem.2004.08.021.


Objectives: This article explores the potential of discrete event simulation (DES) methods to advance system-level investigation of emergency department (ED) operations. To this end, the authors describe the development and operation of Emergency Department SIMulation (EDSIM), a new platform for computer simulation of ED activity at a Level 1 trauma center. The authors also demonstrate one potential application of EDSIM by using simulated ED activity to compare two patient triage methods.

Methods: The Extend DES modeling package was used to develop a model of ED activity for a five-day period in July 2003. Model input includes staffing levels, facility characteristics, and patient data drawn from electronic patient tracking databases, billing records, and a detailed review of 674 ED charts. The accuracy of model output was tested by comparing predicted and known patient service times. The EDSIM model was then used to compare the fast-track triage approach with an alternative acuity ratio triage (ART) approach whereby patients were assigned to staff on an acuity ratio basis.

Results: The EDSIM model predicts average patient service times within 10% of actual values. The accuracy of individual patient paths, however, was variable. In the authors' model, 28% of individual patient treatment times had an absolute error of less than one hour, and 59% less than three hours. A preliminary comparison of two triage methods showed that the ART approach reduced imaging bottlenecks and average treatment times for high-acuity patients, but resulted in an overall increase in average service time for low-acuity patients.

Conclusions: The EDSIM model provides a flexible platform for studying ED operations as they relate to average treatment times for ED patients, but the model will require further refinement to predict individual patient times. A comparative study of triage methods suggests that ART provides a mix of benefits and drawbacks, but further investigation will be required to substantiate these preliminary findings.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Appointments and Schedules
  • Bed Occupancy
  • California
  • Computer Simulation*
  • Emergency Service, Hospital / organization & administration
  • Emergency Service, Hospital / statistics & numerical data*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Medical Informatics
  • Operations Research
  • Quality of Health Care*
  • Safety Management
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Time and Motion Studies
  • Trauma Centers / organization & administration
  • Trauma Centers / statistics & numerical data*
  • Triage
  • Utilization Review*