Simulation modeling for psychiatric service planning: Protocol for a mixed-methods study

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Background: Mental health service managers must take into account multiple factors when making decisions about the best way to deliver care to clients across increasingly larger service areas. This task is made more difficult by the lack of evidence and tools historically available to inform these decisions. In recent decades, the increasing availability of epidemiological and service use data for mental illness has solved the problem of evidence, but there still exists a challenge to make these data easily accessible and understandable for managers. Objective: This study aims to develop a simulation modeling tool to allow managers to explore various service configurations in virtual reality, enabling predictions to be made about the cost and quality of care. Methods: This is a longitudinal, mixed-methods case study, comprising overlapping intervention and evaluation phases. In partnership with senior managers of a mental health program, the researchers will develop a series of simulation models in Arena to address key strategic issues facing the service. Thematic and content analyses of semistructured interviews, meeting observations, and document analysis will be used to evaluate the process of model implementation and the outcomes for both researchers and managers. The study is being conducted in Australia. Results: Data collection has been ongoing since late 2013. To date, 3 prototype simulation models have been developed and presented to senior managers, and 18 evaluation interviews have been conducted. The project is expected to conclude in late 2018. Conclusions: Findings of this study have the potential to shape decision making in mental health service delivery, by providing key examples of how to integrate patient data using simulation modeling. In addition, the results will provide key insights into how researchers and consultants can effectively implement simulation modeling in real-world health care organizations.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere11119
Number of pages10
JournalJMIR Research Protocols
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2018


  • Decision making
  • Health care
  • Health services administration
  • Mental health
  • Mixed-methods
  • Modeling
  • Protocol
  • Simulation

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