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J Eval Clin Pract. 2008 Feb;14(1):59-64. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2753.2007.00794.x.

Prioritizing surgical waiting lists.

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Department of Economics and Quantitative Methods, University of Genova, Genova, Italy.



This paper deals with the problem of surgical waiting lists and is aimed, in particular, at comparing two different prioritization approaches: (1) the clinical assessment of treatment urgency aimed at categorizing patients into urgency-related groups (URGs) with a given recommended maximum waiting time for treatment; and (2) the implementation of an original prioritization scoring algorithm aimed at determining the relative priority of each patient in the waiting list and the corresponding order of admission.


A modelling exercise based on a cohort of 236 patients enrolled on the waiting list of a surgical department in an Italian public university hospital, from 1 January to 30 June 2004, is presented. The comparison is based on a measure called need-adjusted-waiting-days, which allows to take into proper account both urgency and priority.


The results show that both methods should be implemented simultaneously for increasing the department's performance in terms of both efficiency--outcome gained from a given amount of resources--and equity--how patients are admitted according to their need.


Waiting list prioritization should not be limited to classifying patients into URGs, but to using a scoring system as well, in order to schedule patient admissions in an explicit and transparent way.

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