Simulating approaches to emergency department pandemic physician staffing during COVID-19




simulation, staffing, pandemic


Objective: During pandemics, emergency departments (EDs) are challenged by the need to replace quarantined ED staff and avoid staffing EDs with nonemergency medicine (EM) trained physicians. We sought to design and examine three feasible ED staffing models intended to safely schedule EM physicians to staff three EDs within a health system during a prolonged infectious disease outbreak.

Methods: We conducted simulation analyses examining the strengths and limitations of three ED clinician staffing models: two-team and three-team fixed cohort, and three-team unfixed cohort. Each model was assessed with and without immunity, and by varying infection rates. We assumed a 12-week pandemic disaster requiring a 2-week quarantine.

Main outcome: The outcome, time to staffing shortage, was defined as depletion of available physicians in both 8- and 12-hour shift duration scenarios.

Results: All staffing models initially showed linear physician attrition with higher infection rates resulting in faster staffing shortages. The three-team fixed cohort model without immunity was not viable beyond 11 weeks. The three-team unfixed cohort model without immunity avoided staffing shortage for the duration of the pandemic up to an infection rate of 50 percent. The two-team model without immunity also avoided staffing shortage up to 30 percent infection rate. When accounting for immunity, all models behaved similarly initially but returned to adequate staffing during week 5 of the pandemic.

Conclusions: Simulation analyses reveal fundamental tradeoffs that are critical to designing feasible pandemic disaster staffing models. Emergency physicians should test similar models based on local assumptions and capacity to ensure adequate staffing preparedness for prolonged pandemics.

Author Biographies

Rohit B. Sangal, MD, MBA

Department of Emergency Medicine, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, Connecticut

Arjun K. Venkatesh, MD, MBA, MHS

Department of Emergency Medicine, Center for Outcomes Research and Evaluation, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, Connecticut

Jeremiah Kinsman, MPH

Department of Emergency Medicine, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, Connecticut

Meir Dashevsky, MD

Department of Emergency Medicine, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, Connecticut

Jean E. Scofi, MD, MBA

Department of Emergency Medicine, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, Connecticut

Andrew Ulrich, MD

Department of Emergency Medicine, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, Connecticut


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How to Cite

Sangal, MD, MBA, R. B., A. K. Venkatesh, MD, MBA, MHS, J. Kinsman, MPH, M. Dashevsky, MD, J. E. Scofi, MD, MBA, and A. Ulrich, MD. “Simulating Approaches to Emergency Department Pandemic Physician Staffing During COVID-19”. American Journal of Disaster Medicine, vol. 16, no. 2, Aug. 2021, pp. 85-93, doi:10.5055/ajdm.2021.0391.




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