Bulletin of the World Health Organization

Hospital capacity planning: from measuring stocks to modelling flows

Bernd Rechel, Stephen Wright, James Barlow & Martin McKee

The metric of “bed numbers” is commonly used in hospital planning, but it fails to capture key aspects of how hospital services are delivered. Drawing on a study of innovative hospital projects in Europe, we argue that hospital capacity planning should not be based on beds, but rather on the ability to deliver processes. We propose using approaches that are based on manufacturing theory such as “lean thinking” that focuses on the value that different processes add for the primary customer, i.e. the patient. We argue that it is beneficial to look at the hospital, not from the perspective of beds or specialties, but rather from the path taken by the patients who are treated in them, the respective processes delivered by health professionals and the facilities appropriate to those processes. Systematized care pathways seem to offer one avenue for achieving these goals. However, they need to be underpinned by a better understanding of the flows of patients, work and goods within a hospital, the bottlenecks that occur, and translation of this understanding into new capacity planning tools.