Agent-Based Modeling: A Method for Investigating Challenging Research Problems

Nurs Res. 2019 Nov/Dec;68(6):473-482. doi: 10.1097/NNR.0000000000000390.


Background: For all our successes, many urgent health problems persist, and although some of these problems may be explored with established research methods, others remain uniquely challenging to investigate-maybe even impossible to study in the real world because of practical and pragmatic obstacles inherent to the nature of the research question.

Objectives: The purpose of this review article is to introduce agent-based modeling (ABM) and simulation and demonstrate its value and potential as a novel research method applied in nursing science.

Methods: An introduction to ABM and simulation is described. Examples of current research literature on the subject are provided. A case study example of community nursing and opioid dependence is presented.

Results: The use of ABM and simulation in human health research has increased dramatically over the past decade, and meaningful research is now commonly found published widely in respected, peer-reviewed journals. Absent from this list is innovative ABM and simulation research published by nurse researchers in nursing-specific journals.

Discussion: ABM and simulation is a powerful method with tremendous potential in nursing research. It is vital that nursing embrace and adopt innovative and advanced research methods if we are to remain a progressive voice in health research, practice, and policy.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Nursing Research*
  • Research Design*
  • Systems Analysis*