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Anesth Analg. 2002 Jan;94(1):143-8, table of contents.

Operating room managers' use of integer programming for assigning block time to surgical groups: a case study.

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Department of Industrial Engineering, Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia.


A common problem at hospitals with fixed amounts of available operating room (OR) time (i.e., "block time") is determining an equitable method of distributing time to surgical groups. Typically, facilities determine a surgical group's share of available block time using formulas based on OR utilization, contribution margin, or some other performance metric. Once each group's share of time has been calculated, a method must be found for fitting each group's allocated OR time into the surgical master schedule. This involves assigning specific ORs on specific days of the week to specific surgical groups, usually with the objective of ensuring that the time assigned to each group is close to its target share. Unfortunately, the target allocated to a group is rarely expressible as a multiple of whole blocks. In this paper, we describe a hospital's experience using the mathematical technique of integer programming to solve the problem of developing a consistent schedule that minimizes the shortfall between each group's target and actual assignment of OR time. Schedule accuracy, the sum over all surgical groups of shortfalls divided by the total time available on the schedule, was 99.7% (SD 0.1%, n = 11). Simulations show the algorithm's accuracy can exceed 97% with > or =4 ORs. The method is a systematic and successful way to assign OR blocks to surgeons.


At hospitals with a fixed budget of operating room (OR) time, integer programming can be used by OR managers to decide which surgical group is to be allocated which OR on which day(s) of the week. In this case study, we describe the successful application of integer programming to this task, and discuss the applicability of the results to other hospitals.

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