Overutilization and underutilization of operating rooms - insights from behavioral health care operations management

Andreas Fügener, Sebastian Schiffels, Rainer Kolisch

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

33 Scopus citations


The planning of surgery durations is crucial for efficient usage of operating theaters. Both planning too long and too short durations for surgeries lead to undesirable consequences, e.g. idle time, overtime, or rescheduling of surgeries. We define these consequences as operating room inefficiency. The overall objective of planning surgery durations is to minimize expected operating room inefficiency, since surgery durations are stochastic. While most health care studies assume economically rational behavior of decision makers, experimental studies have shown that decision makers often do not act according to economic incentives. Based on insights from health care operations management, medical decision making, behavioral operations management, as well as empirical observations, we derive hypotheses that surgeons’ behavior deviates from economically rational behavior. To investigate this, we undertake an experimental study where experienced surgeons are asked to plan surgeries with uncertain durations. We discover systematic deviations from optimal decision making and offer behavioral explanations for the observed biases. Our research provides new insights to tackle a major problem in hospitals, i.e. low operating room utilization going along with staff overtime.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)115-128
Number of pages14
JournalHealth Care Management Science
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1 Mar 2017


  • Behavioral operations research
  • Capacity planning
  • Surgery scheduling


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