Background: The medical, social, and economic effects of the teaching mission on delivery of care at an academic medical center (AMC) are not fully understood. When a free-standing private practice ambulatory clinic with no teaching mission was merged into an AMC, a natural experiment was created. The authors compared process measures across the two settings to observe the differences in system performance introduced by the added steps and resources of the AMC's teaching mission.
Methods: After creating process maps based on activity times realized in both settings, the authors developed discrete-event simulations of the two environments. The two settings were comparable in the levels of key resources, but the AMC process flow included three residents/fellows. Simulation enabled the authors to consider an identical schedule across the two settings.
Results: Under identical schedules, the average accumulated processing time per patient was higher in the AMC. However, the use of residents allowed simultaneous processing of multiple patients. Consequently, the AMC had higher throughput (3.5 vs. 2.7 patients per hour), higher room utilization (82.2% vs. 75.5%), reduced utilization of the attending physician (79.0% vs. 93.4%), and a shorter average waiting time (30.0 vs. 83.9 min). In addition, the average completion time for the final patient scheduled was 97.9 min less, and the average number of patients treated before incurring overtime was 37.9% greater.
Conclusions: Although the teaching mission of the AMC adds processing steps and costs, the use of trainees within the process serves to increase throughput while decreasing waiting times and the use of overtime.