Exploratory Simulation: How to Win at Healthcare Analysis
Did you know that you can get some quick wins with healthcare systems simulation?
It’s called Exploratory Simulation, and it’s a great way to understand what’s going on right now as well as explore the impact of future change. What kind of change? How about changes in process, changes in allocated resources, and changes in environment!
Here’s how it works. Identify a system you’d like to investigate, and then model it with as much simplification as possible, in as little time as possible. You see, we’ve come to realize that the incredible 3D animation and powerful modeling constructs available in FlexSim Healthcare simulation software have inadvertently driven Health Systems Engineers (HSE’s) towards building more and more detailed models—not because they’re needed, but just because they can.
Detailed models are the enemy of Exploratory Simulation! They take too long to build, are burdensome to change when exploring different scenarios, often camouflage the cause-and-effect relationships you’re interested in understanding, and require supporting data that you often don’t have.
Quick steps for simulation success
Building quick and simple models is at the heart of Exploratory Simulation—so how do we do that? Here’s a few ideas to guide you along the way:
- Spend time up front conceptualizing your model. Talk it over with a coworker to help flesh out the important pieces to include in the actual model. Don’t rush this step—it’s part of the exploratory process and can be quite illuminating.
- Remember that “something is better than nothing.” This old adage definitely applies to Exploratory Simulation. Even inferior models can provide insights that lead to improvements!
- Try to represent multiple activities with a single process time whenever possible. Remember it’s every bit as representative to use the parameters of an entire multi-step operation, as it is to break up the operation into its individual steps. Simple models with properly chosen time distributions for delay, can do a lot!
- It’s OK to use average process times in a model to represent real length of stay. Really, it is!
- Only include staff involvement when staff utilization is directly part of the investigation.
- Copy and reuse everything you can. If you’ve built previous models, reuse all or parts of them. If you’ve never built a simulation model, we at FlexSim have an ever-growing library of models created for previous simulation projects that you’re always welcome to copy from. And of course, you’re welcome at any time to pick our brains for ideas on how best to approach your model in the simplest way possible—give us a call!
Simpler can be better
Remember that simplification doesn’t have to be a dirty word. The best HSE’s recognize that simple models can be valuable analytical stepping stones in the decision making process.
With Exploratory Simulation, we are more interested in obtaining a better understanding of our processes than we are in obtaining an answer to specific questions. So rather than answer “exactly how many nurses will we need in the ER,” we want to better understand what occupies the time of the nurses you currently have.
Begin by using a simplified model to gain understanding and appreciation for the way things work now.
Learning from the simulation process
If you (or better yet, your team) keep your eyes, ears and minds open during the Exploratory Simulation phase, you will always learn things that will benefit your patients and your organization. Experience has shown you’ll be rewarded by a flood of innovative ideas from lively discussions, just from showing a simulation model with full 3D animation. This is true regardless of the detail or complexity that is withheld from the model!
Animation is the one tool that simulation brings to the planner’s table that no other evaluative method can compete with. As such, it serves not only as a means of validating the performance of a model, but as a research and teaching tool as well. Often, it enables everyone to see not only what’s going on, but why—and all without opening a single boring, confusing report.
What part of the patient care process would you like to better understand? How about the delays in your patient care delivery, or the impediments that are keeping your healthcare system from operating the way it was intended to?
We invite you to contact us and learn how your health system can benefit from seeing what’s happening right now—and what could happen in the future with the use of FlexSim HC modeling software!