Using simulation modelling to transform hospital planning and management to address health inequalities

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Health inequalities are a perennial concern for policymakers and in service delivery to ensure fair and equitable access and outcomes. As health inequalities are socially influenced by employment, income, and education, this impacts healthcare services among socio-economically disadvantaged groups, making it a pertinent area for investigation in seeking to promote equitable access. Researchers widely acknowledge that health equity is a multi-faceted problem requiring approaches to understand the complexity and interconnections in hospital planning as a precursor to healthcare delivery. Operations research offers the potential to develop analytical models and frameworks to aid in complex decision-making that has both a strategic and operational function in problem-solving. This paper develops a simulation-based modelling framework (SimulEQUITY) to model the complexities in addressing health inequalities at a hospital level. The model encompasses an entire hospital operation (including inpatient, outpatient, and emergency department services) using the discrete-event simulation method to simulate the behaviour and performance of real-world systems, processes, or organisations. The paper makes a sustained contribution to knowledge by challenging the existing population-level planning approaches in healthcare that often overlook individual patient needs, especially within disadvantaged groups. By holistically modelling an entire hospital, socio-economic variations in patients' pathways are developed by incorporating individual patient attributes and variables. This innovative framework facilitates the exploration of diverse scenarios, from processes to resources and environmental factors, enabling key decision-makers to evaluate what intervention strategies to adopt as well as the likely scenarios for future patterns of healthcare inequality. The paper outlines the decision-support toolkit developed and the practical application of the SimulEQUITY model through to implementation within a hospital in the UK. This moves hospital management and strategic planning to a more dynamic position where a software-based approach, incorporating complexity, is implicit in the modelling rather than simplification and generalisation arising from the use of population-based models.
Original languageEnglish
Article number116786
Pages (from-to)1-14
Number of pages14
JournalSocial Science and Medicine
Early online date14 Mar 2024
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2024


  • Decision-support tool
  • Discrete-event simulation
  • Health inequality
  • Modelling
  • Operations research
  • Socio-economic status


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