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  • Linke Potgieter

ORAHS in Graz

The European Working Group on Operational Research Applied to Health Services hosted their yearly conference in Graz, Austria, 16-21 July 2023, with the main theme of the conference about integrated planning and provision of services in health care systems. Although I've been to Austria before, this was my first visit to Graz. It did not fail to disappoint - Graz is a beautiful city, and the conference organisation was out of this world. They should write a manual!

This year, the conference organisers went the extra mile to create opportunities for connection after hours, which suited me very well since I was travelling on my own. Starting with a welcoming reception at the Rooftop-Mensa, with fantastic views over Graz, a selection of 5 city tours (I decided to join the Street Art and Street Food tour), drinks, volleyball and table tennis at Murbeach, a conference boat trip on the Worthersee from Velden to Krumpendorf (during which a surprise thunderstorm made sure half of us was soaking wet, an early morning 5km run through Graz, and a conference dinner at the beautiful Schlossberg Restaurant. The catering was wonderful, everything organised to perfection.

The venue of the conference was at the 'Alte Technik' campus, located close to the historic city center.

In the first plenary meeting in the stunning 'AULA' lecture hall, Erwin Hans reminded us that a little flexibility goes a long way, especially in integrated planning. The importance of change management was also highlighted (if you wanted to make an impact, and not just write a research paper about it). He used a very nice example of the Netherlands flood management - if you know how much water is coming from upstream, you can prepare sooner downstream - to demonstrate the importance of integrated planning of the entire care pathway in healthcare. Our second plenary speaker, Michael O'Sullivan, took a more futuristic approach to healthcare that utilises digital twins to deliver healthcare services effectively and efficiently. Although I appreciated the ideas of both speakers, some of it might still be blue sky ideas for which the healthcare setting is not 100% ready for. Which comes back to the point of the importance of change management.

The scientific sessions covered a range of topics within a healthcare context such as: operating room scheduling, intra-hospital integrated planning, predictive and prescriptive analytics in healthcare, appointment scheduling and bed management, homecare and long term care, blood logistics, emergency medical services, staffing and capacity planning, healthcare policies and systems, transportation, routing and logistics, staff and resource scheduling, and patient flow and care pathways. I was scheduled in the home healthcare session, with my talk on the work that Hannah Jarvis, Nadia Le Roux and I are doing on mobile clinic routing and scheduling in the Witzenberg region of South Africa. There were much interest in the project, for which I am very thankful for.

Will I recommend going to the ORAHS conferences? Yes, definitely, if you are interested in Healthcare Operations Research. Will I visit Graz again? Sure, if there is another opportunity, but more for using it as a base. It is a small city, so I feel as if I've done most of the touristy things within the city. Will definitely like to see the surrounding region, and perhaps to nearby Slovenia and Croatia. There are much to see and to do! Will I visit Austria again? I very much hope so!

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