Post-surgery length of stay using multi-criteria decision-making tool

Sandra C. Buttigieg, Dorothy Gauci, Frank Bezzina, Prasanta K. Dey

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Length of stay (LOS) in hospital after surgery varies for each patient depending on surgeon’s decision that considers criticality of the surgery, patient’s conditions before and after surgery, expected time to recovery and experience of the surgeon involved. Decision on patients’ LOS at hospital post-surgery affects overall healthcare performance as it affects both cost and quality of care. The purpose of this paper is to develop a model for deriving the most appropriate LOS after surgical interventions.

The study adopts an action research involving multiple stakeholders (surgeon, patients/patients’ relatives, hospital management and other medics). First, a conceptual model is developed using literature and experts’ opinion. Second, the model is applied in three surgical interventions in a public hospital in Malta to demonstrate the effectiveness of the model. Third, the policy alternatives developed are compared to a selection of current international standards for each surgical intervention. The proposed model analyses three LOS threshold policies for three procedures using efficiency and responsiveness criteria. The entire analysis is carried out using 325 randomly selected patient files along with structured interactions with more than 50 stakeholders (surgeon, patients/patients’ relatives, hospital management and other medics). A multiple criteria decision-making method is deployed for model building and data analysis. The method involves combining the analytic hierarchy process (AHP) for verbal subjective judgements on prioritizing the four predictors of surgical LOS—medical, financial, social and risk, with pairwise comparisons of the sub-criteria under each criterion in line with the concerned interventions—the objective data of which are obtained from the patients’ files.

The proposed model was successfully applied to decide on the best policy alternative for LOS for the three interventions. The best policy alternatives compared well to current international benchmarks.

Research limitations/implications
The proposed method needs to be tested for other interventions across various healthcare settings.

Practical implications
Multi-criteria decision-making tools enable resource optimization and overall improvement of patient care through the application of a scientific management technique that involves all relevant stakeholders while utilizing both subjective judgements as well as objective data.

Traditionally, the duration of post-surgery LOS is mainly based on the surgeons’ clinical but also arbitrary decisions, with, as a result, having insufficiently explicable variations in LOS amongst peers for similar interventions. According to the authors’ knowledge, this is the first attempt to derive post-surgery LOS using the AHP, a multiple criteria decision-making method.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)514-531
JournalJournal of Health Organization and Management
Issue number4
Early online date29 Jun 2018
Publication statusPublished - 3 Jul 2018

Bibliographical note

© Emerald Publishing Limited 2018
Published by Emerald Publishing Limited
Licensed re-use rights only


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