Working Paper | HBS Working Paper Series | 2013

The Diseconomies of Queue Pooling: An Empirical Investigation of Emergency Department Length of Stay

by Hummy Song, Anita L. Tucker and Karen L. Murrell

Abstract

We conduct an empirical investigation of the impact of two different queue management systems on throughput times. Using an Emergency Department's (ED) patient-level data (N = 231,081) from 2007 to 2010, we find that patients' lengths of stay (LOS) were longer when physicians were assigned patients under a pooled queuing system, compared to when each physician operated under a dedicated queuing system. The dedicated queuing system resulted in a 10 percent decrease in LOS—a 32-minute reduction in LOS for an average patient of medium severity in this ED. We propose that the dedicated queuing system yielded shorter throughput times because it provided physicians with greater ability and incentive to manage their patients' flow through the ED from arrival to discharge. Consistent with social loafing theory, our analysis shows that patients were treated and discharged at a faster rate in the dedicated queuing system than in the pooled queuing system. We conduct additional analyses to rule out alternate explanations, such as stinting on care and decreased quality of care. Our paper has implications for health care organizations and others seeking to reduce throughput time, resource utilization, and costs.

Keywords: pooling; queue management; strategic servers; social loafing; empirical operations; health care; Management Practices and Processes; Service Delivery; Health Care and Treatment; Health Industry;

Citation:

Song, Hummy, Anita L. Tucker, and Karen L. Murrell. "The Diseconomies of Queue Pooling: An Empirical Investigation of Emergency Department Length of Stay." Harvard Business School Working Paper, No. 14-050, December 2013.