Using Discrete-Event Simulation to Promote Quality Improvement and Efficiency in a Radiation Oncology Treatment Center

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To meet demand for radiation oncology services and ensure patient-centered safe care, management in an academic radiation oncology department initiated quality improvement efforts using discrete-event simulation (DES). Although the long-term goal was testing and deploying solutions, the primary aim at the outset was characterizing and validating a computer simulation model of existing operations to identify targets for improvement.


The adoption and validation of a DES model of processes and procedures affecting patient flow and satisfaction, employee experience, and efficiency were undertaken in 2012-2013. Multiple sources were tapped for data, including direct observation, equipment logs, timekeeping, and electronic health records.


During their treatment visits, patients averaged 50.4 minutes in the treatment center, of which 38% was spent in the treatment room. Patients with appointments between 10 AM and 2 PM experienced the longest delays before entering the treatment room, and those in the clinic in the day's first and last hours, the shortest (<5 minutes). Despite staffed for 14.5 hours daily, the clinic registered only 20% of patients after 2:30 PM. Utilization of equipment averaged 58%, and utilization of staff, 56%.


The DES modeling quantified operations, identifying evidence-based targets for next-phase remediation and providing data to justify initiatives.

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