Wait!What does that mean?: Eliminating ambiguity of delays in healthcare from an OR/MS perspective

Maria Van Zyl-Cillie*, Derya Demirtas, Erwin Hans

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articleAcademicpeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)
115 Downloads (Pure)


Waiting time in healthcare is a significant problem that occurs across the world and often has catastrophic effects. There are various terms used for waiting time (“sojourn”, “throughput” etc.) and there is no consensus on how these terms are defined. Ambiguous definitions of waiting time make it difficult to compare and measure the problems related to waiting times and delays in healthcare. We present a systematic search and review of the Operations Research and Management Science (ORMS) literature on delays in healthcare services. We search for articles from 2004 to 2019 and base our search strategy on a well-known healthcare planning and control decision taxonomy. An important step towards reducing the ambiguity in the definitions is to distinguish between access time and waiting time. We provide clear definitions and examples of access time and waiting time, and we classify our search results according to three categories: article type, healthcare service investigated and ORMS technique used to solve the delay problem. We find that half of the ORMS research on the waiting and access time problem is done on Ambulatory Care services. We provide tables for each healthcare service that highlight key definitions, the techniques that are used most often and the healthcare environment where the research is done. This research highlights the significant ORMS research that is done on access and waiting time in healthcare as well as the remaining research opportunities. Moreover, it provides a common language for the ORMS community to solve critical waiting time issues in healthcare.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3-21
Number of pages19
JournalHealth systems
Issue number1
Early online date9 Jan 2022
Publication statusPublished - 2 Jan 2023


  • Waiting time
  • access time
  • healthcare services
  • operations research
  • UT-Hybrid-D


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