New model could drastically cut patient wait times

12 September 2019

Patients will no longer be forced to wait months before seeing a specialist in an outpatient clinic under a health service designed by a computer model.

Researchers from The University of Queensland say the model could ensure patients with musculoskeletal conditions are seen within the clinically recommended timeframes.

UQ Research Officer Ms Nicole Moretto said it could help hospitals run the most efficient outpatient clinics.

“The model showed maximising the use of advanced physiotherapists could reduce the proportion of patients waiting longer than clinically recommended from 38 per cent to less than 1 per cent in five public hospital services across Queensland,” Ms Moretto said.

“Musculoskeletal conditions place a substantial burden on outpatient services in Australia.

“Patients living with conditions like arthritis and spinal pain are referred to an orthopaedic surgeon or neurosurgeon in public outpatient departments for management.

“These patients often wait too long for an outpatient appointment, which delays diagnosis and treatment.”

Modelling helps to work out how to make the most of physiotherapist-led clinics, which have been shown to deliver good outcomes for patients whilst being highly cost effective.

The computer model simulates a patient’s journey through the outpatient services to determine the number and most efficient mix of surgeons and advanced physiotherapists that could be rostered together to decrease waiting times.

“We found that wait times could be reduced significantly for most patients and almost all could be seen within the recommended timeframe, if the changes were implemented,” Ms Moretto said.

“Waiting times can be hugely frustrating for patients who struggle with pain and mobility issues before they are treated.”

Another key feature of this type of modelling is the ability for decision-makers to test the impact of proposed changes before physically implementing them.

The research was carried out under the guidance of UQ CHSR health economist Associate Professor Tracy Comans, and was led by Maree Raymer and the Neurosurgery and Orthopaedic Physiotherapy Screening Clinic research team in collaboration with three Queensland health service districts.

The study was funded by the Australian Centre for Health Services Innovation (AusHSI) Implementation Grant IG000-728.

The research is published in Implementation Science (DOI:10.1186/s13012-019-0923-1).

Media: Ms Nicole Moretto,, +61 7 3176 6599; Faculty of Medicine Communications,, +61 7 3365 5118, +61 436 368 746.