Australian Health Review Australian Health Review Society
Journal of the Australian Healthcare & Hospitals Association
RESEARCH ARTICLE

Time to wait: a systematic review of strategies that affect out-patient waiting times

Ugenthiri Naiker A E , Gerry FitzGerald A , Joel M. Dulhunty A B C and Michael Rosemann D
+ Author Affliations
- Author Affliations

A School of Public Health, Queensland University of Technology, Victoria Park Road, Kelvin Grove, Qld 4059, Australia. Email: gj.fitzgerald@qut.edu.au

B Medical Administration, Redcliffe Hospital, Anzac Avenue, Redcliffe, Qld 4020, Australia. Email: Joel.Dulhunty@health.qld.gov.au

C Faculty of Medicine, The University of Queensland, St Lucia, Brisbane, Qld 4072, Australia.

D School of Information Systems, Science and Engineering Faculty, Queensland University of Technology, 2 George Street, Brisbane, Qld, 4000. Email: m.rosemann@qut.edu.au

E Corresponding author. Email: Ugenthiri.naiker@student.qut.edu.au

Australian Health Review - https://doi.org/10.1071/AH16275
Submitted: 3 March 2016  Accepted: 1 February 2017   Published online: 30 March 2017

Abstract

Objective Out-patient waiting times pose a significant challenge for public patients in need of specialist evaluation and intervention. The aim of the present study was to identify and categorise effective strategies to reduce waiting times for specialist out-patient services with a focus on the Australian healthcare system.

Methods A systematic review of major health databases was conducted using the key terms ‘outpatient*’ AND ‘waiting time’, ‘process*’ AND ‘improvement in outpatient clinics’. Identified articles were assessed for their relevance by sequential review of the title, abstract and full text. References of the selected manuscripts were scanned for additional relevant articles. Selected articles were evaluated for consistent and emerging themes.

Results In all, 152 articles were screened, of which 38 were included in the present review. Numerous strategies identified in the articles were consolidated into 26 consistent approaches. Three overarching themes were identified as significantly affecting waiting times: resource realignment, operational efficiency and process improvement.

Conclusions Strategies to align resources, increase operational efficiency and improve processes provide a comprehensive approach that may reduce out-patient waiting times.

What is known about the topic? Out-patient waiting times are a challenge in most countries that seek to provide universal access to health care for all citizens. Although there has been extensive research in this area, many patients still experience extensive delays accessing specialist care, particularly in the public health sector. The multiple factors that contribute to bottlenecks and inefficiencies in the referral process and affect patient waiting times are often poorly understood.

What does this paper add? This paper reviews the published healthcare literature to identify strategies that affect specialist out-patient waiting times for patients. The findings suggest that there are numerous operational strategies that affect waiting times. These strategies may be categorised into three overarching themes (resource alignment, operational efficiencies and out-patient processes) that, when actioned in a coordinated approach, have the potential to significantly reduce out-patient waiting times.

What are the implications for practitioners? This paper identifies evidence-based strategies for aligning resources, improving operational efficiency and streamlining processes, which may provide improvements to specialist out-patient waiting times for patients. Addressing the identified organisational, person-related, cultural and attitudinal factors will assist health system managers and health practitioners target the most appropriate improvement activities to reduce waiting times.


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