My vaccine queue

One of the recurrent problems of managing queues is randomness. And when human beings are involved, there is nearly always some randomness. And that's why queues involving machines are easier to deal with; machines are more predictable! Until the problem is scheduling emergency maintenance, due to a particular kind of randomness called failure.

Many analyses of control of human queues advise that to be efficient, the randomness must be reduced.

So, my day of second vaccination was an especially interesting experience for being in a queue which was very controlled for efficiency. I was there for my vaccination against Covid-19. The appointment was at 9:40am, along with about a dozen other people. But of course, we arrived at random times. We joined a single line to be checked in, one by one. Once past that point, control to deal with randomness started. Each patient was sent to a numbered chair, so there were ten of us, all ready to be called for a numbered "server'' (or vaccination nurse) That smoothed out the arrival process, by ensuring there was always a reservoir of people in the waiting area. Then our chair number was called, and we proceeded to a numbered room, where another chair awaited us outside.

So each nurse, in their room, always had a "customer'' being served and another waiting to be served. In queue parlance, the servers were working at 100% capacity. But of course, there was scope for each one to take a break.

All excellent control of a system, smoothing the arrival process at the servers so carefully. Well done, whoever devised this scheme!

All was well until Tina and I compared notes about our experiences, and it transpired that the "system'' found it hard to cope with people in wheelchairs and buggies, who couldn't use the numbered chairs. And the process of "serving'' for Tina and I was slightly different; she was asked different questions from me, and was given more documentation than I got. So, not quite full marks for planning, but still very good. 

I know that there has been a great deal of modelling in the health service in the United Kingdom to streamline the vaccination process.  The pandemic will provide plenty of case studies for O.R. researchers in that sector.  But, I wonder, will there be any rivalry between the designers of different queue management systems?


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