Optimising the performance of an outpatient setting.
BACKGROUND: An outpatient setting typically includes experienced and novice resident physicians who are supervised by senior staff physicians. The performance of this kind of outpatient setting, for a given mix of experienced and novice resident physicians, is determined by the number of senior staff physicians available for supervision. The optimum mix of human resources may be determined using discrete-event simulation. METHODS: An outpatient setting represents a system where concurrency and resource sharing are important. These concepts can be modelled by means of timed Coloured Petri Nets (CPN), which is a discrete-event simulation formalism. We determined the optimum mix of resources (i.e. the number of senior staff physicians needed for a given number of experienced and novice resident physicians) to guarantee efficient overall system performance. RESULTS: In an outpatient setting with 10 resident physicians, two staff physicians are required to guarantee a minimum level of system performance (42-52 patients are seen per 5-hour period). However, with 3 senior staff physicians system performance can be improved substantially (49-56 patients per 5-hour period). An additional fourth staff physician does not substantially enhance system performance (50-57 patients per 5-hour period). CONCLUSION: Coloured Petri Nets provide a flexible environment in which to simulate an outpatient setting and assess the impact of any staffing changes on overall system performance, to promote informed resource allocation decisions.