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Priority Queues in Healthcare: Optimizing Patient Care

Jahnavi Vetukuri 18

Imagine you’re responsible for managing a busy hospital. The hospital deals with a constant influx of patients with varying degrees of medical urgency. You need an efficient system to prioritize and manage patient care to ensure that critical cases receive immediate attention. Read on to find out how we can solve this.

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In the fast-paced world of healthcare, every minute counts. Timely and efficient patient care is not just a goal; it’s a necessity. Hospitals and medical facilities must constantly find ways to optimize their processes to ensure that patients receive the care they need when they need it. One powerful tool in achieving this goal is the use of priority queues.

Understanding Priority Queues

Before we dive into the ways priority queues are transforming healthcare, let’s clarify what a priority queue is. At its core, a priority queue is a data structure that manages a collection of elements, each of which has an associated priority. The key characteristic of a priority queue is that it always dequeues the element with the highest priority.

In the context of healthcare, elements in the priority queue represent tasks or patients, and their priority is determined by the urgency of their medical condition or the importance of the task. This ensures that critical cases are handled promptly, aligning perfectly with the principle of patient-centered care.

Triage and Patient Prioritization

Priority queues help healthcare professionals prioritize patients based on the severity of their condition. Critical cases, such as those involving cardiac arrest or trauma, are given the highest priority, ensuring that life-saving interventions happen without delay.

Code Implementation

Let us quickly jump into how we can implement this in Java.

Firstly, let us create a class Patient

Patient Class: This class represents a patient and includes their name and priority level. Priority is typically assigned as 1 for critical cases, 2 for high-priority cases, 3 for medium-priority cases, and 4 for low-priority cases.

// Class to represent a patient
class Patient {
private String name;
private int priority; // 1 for critical, 2 for high, 3 for medium, 4 for low

public Patient(String name, int priority) {
this.name = name;
this.priority = priority;

public int getPriority() {
return priority;

Task Class: The Task class represents tasks associated with patients. Each task has a description and is associated with a patient. It also implements the Comparable interface to enable tasks to be compared based on patient priority.

// Class to represent a task
class Task implements Comparable<Task> {
private String description;
private Patient patient;

public Task(String description, Patient patient) {
this.description = description;
this.patient = patient;

public Patient getPatient() {
return patient;

public int compareTo(Task otherTask) {
// Tasks are compared based on patient priority
return Integer.compare(this.patient.getPriority(), otherTask.getPatient().getPriority());

public String toString() {
return "Task: " + description + " for " + patient;

HospitalTaskScheduling Class: This class contains the main method and serves as the entry point of the program. Inside the main method:

  • A PriorityQueue named taskQueue is created to manage tasks. The priority queue is designed to prioritize tasks based on their associated patients' priority levels.
  • Several patients with different priority levels (critical, high, and medium) are created, and corresponding tasks are added to the taskQueue.
  • The program then processes the tasks in priority order using a while loop, ensuring that tasks associated with patients with higher priority levels are processed first.
public class HospitalTaskScheduling {
public static void main(String[] args) {
PriorityQueue<Task> taskQueue = new PriorityQueue<>();

// Simulate patient arrivals and task scheduling
Patient patient1 = new Patient("John", 1); // Critical
Patient patient2 = new Patient("Sarah", 2); // High
Patient patient3 = new Patient("Mike", 3); // Medium

taskQueue.add(new Task("Emergency surgery", patient1));
taskQueue.add(new Task("X-ray and examination", patient2));
taskQueue.add(new Task("Blood test", patient3));

// Process tasks in priority order
while (!taskQueue.isEmpty()) {
Task task = taskQueue.poll();
System.out.println("Processing: " + task);

taskQueue.poll(): This method is part of the PriorityQueue class in Java. It retrieves and removes the element with the highest priority (i.e., the smallest value based on the natural order or the custom order provided) from the priority queue. In the context of the hospital task scheduling, it gets the task with the highest-priority patient.


While taskQueue.poll() is the most common and straightforward way to retrieve the highest-priority element from a PriorityQueue, there are alternatives:

  • taskQueue.peek(): This method retrieves the highest-priority element without removing it from the queue. It's useful when you need to check the next task to be processed without actually processing it.
  • Custom Sorting: If you want more control over the order in which tasks are processed, you can use a Comparator to define a custom ordering for tasks. Then, you can use taskQueue.remove() to remove a specific task based on your custom criteria.

Conclusion: The Universal Utility of Priority Queues

In the world of computing and beyond, priority queues prove their worth by efficiently managing and processing tasks, events, or data based on predefined priorities. These dynamic data structures find application in diverse domains:

  • Computer Science and Algorithms: Fueling crucial algorithms for routing, shortest paths, and more.
  • Networking: Prioritizing data packets for efficient transmission.
  • Emergency Services and Air Traffic Control: Ensuring swift responses and safe operations.
  • Finance, Call Centers, and Real-Time Systems: Streamlining operations and enhancing user experiences.
  • Data Compression and Task Scheduling: Optimizing data handling and resource allocation.

Priority queues are the go-to solution for tasks that require a blend of order, speed, and efficiency. In our fast-paced world, they remain essential tools for achieving excellence in various fields.

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