Physician Discretion and Patient Pick-up: How Familiarity Encourages Multitasking in the Emergency Department
Forthcoming in Operations Research
25 Pages Posted: 29 Jun 2020 Last revised: 6 Feb 2023
Date Written: April 29, 2022
Background: Patient demand for emergency medical services continues to rise from all-time highs. Physicians generally respond to the rising demand by increasing their level of multitasking.
Aim: What leads Emergency Department physicians to select which patients, and how many patients, they will treat? Queuing models frequently assume individual servers operate independently of other servers. In contrast, we consider how familiarity between peer physicians affects patient selection and the chosen multitasking level, a process more commonly known in the ED as “patient pick-up."
Methods: Using empirical observations from two Emergency Departments, we explore whether familiarity alters patient pick-up behavior, we determine the effect of familiarity on multitasking, and we measure the combined impact of familiarity and multitasking on other ED outcomes.
Results: Among ED physicians, greater average familiarity leads to an increase in patient pick-up rate, observed multitasking, and shorter patient wait time -- with no identifiable, negative impact to patient processing time or length of stay. Moreover, the effects intensify at the end of a physician’s shift and for patients in severe condition.
Conclusion: Within more familiar groups, physicians appear willing to exert more effort. Our study clarifies how the benefits materialize and illustrates why researchers must consider server familiarity moving forward.
Keywords: Healthcare, Discretion, Productivity, Familiarity, Empirical Operations
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation