Queueing for healthcare

J Med Syst. 2012 Apr;36(2):541-7. doi: 10.1007/s10916-010-9499-7. Epub 2010 May 8.


Patient queues are prevalent in healthcare and wait time is one measure of access to care. We illustrate Queueing Theory-an analytical tool that has provided many insights to service providers when designing new service systems and managing existing ones. This established theory helps us to quantify the appropriate service capacity to meet the patient demand, balancing system utilization and the patient's wait time. It considers four key factors that affect the patient's wait time: average patient demand, average service rate and the variation in both. We illustrate four basic insights that will be useful for managers and doctors who manage healthcare delivery systems, at hospital or department level. Two examples from local hospitals are shown where we have used queueing models to estimate the service capacity and analyze the impact of capacity configurations, while considering the inherent variation in healthcare.

MeSH terms

  • Appointments and Schedules
  • Efficiency, Organizational
  • Emergency Service, Hospital / organization & administration
  • Health Services Accessibility / organization & administration
  • Health Services Needs and Demand / organization & administration*
  • Humans
  • Quality of Health Care / organization & administration
  • Systems Theory*
  • Waiting Lists*