Health Care Management Science

, Volume 17, Issue 1, pp 31–48 | Cite as

Dynamic allocation of same-day requests in multi-physician primary care practices in the presence of prescheduled appointments

  • Hari Balasubramanian
  • Sebastian Biehl
  • Longjie Dai
  • Ana Muriel


Appointments in primary care are of two types: 1) prescheduled appointments, which are booked in advance of a given workday; and 2) same-day appointments, which are booked as calls come during the workday. The challenge for practices is to provide preferred time slots for prescheduled appointments and yet see as many same-day patients as possible during regular work hours. It is also important, to the extent possible, to match same-day patients with their own providers (so as to maximize continuity of care). In this paper, we present a mathematical framework (a stochastic dynamic program) for same-day patient allocation in multi-physician practices in which calls for same-day appointments come in dynamically over a workday. Allocation decisions have to be made in the presence of prescheduled appointments and without complete demand information. The objective is to maximize a weighted measure that includes the number of same-day patients seen during regular work hours as well as the continuity provided to these patients. Our experimental design is motivated by empirical data we collected at a 3-provider family medicine practice in Massachusetts. Our results show that the location of prescheduled appointments – i.e. where in the day these appointments are booked – has a significant impact on the number of same-day patients a practice can see during regular work hours, as well as the continuity the practice is able to provide. We find that a 2-Blocks policy which books prescheduled appointments in two clusters – early morning and early afternoon – works very well. We also provide a simple, easily implementable policy for schedulers to assign incoming same-day requests to appointment slots. Our results show that this policy provides near-optimal same-day assignments in a variety of settings.


Appointment scheduling primary care Same-day access Continuity of care Stochastic dynamic programming Heuristics 



This work was funded in part by from the National Science Foundation (NSF CMMI 1031550). Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Hari Balasubramanian
    • 1
  • Sebastian Biehl
    • 1
  • Longjie Dai
    • 1
  • Ana Muriel
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Mechanical and Industrial EngineeringUniversity of MassachusettsAmherstUSA

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