Locum Tenens: A COVID-19 Staffing Reality for Hospitals with a Big Impact

Healthcare is boundary less.  What does that mean?  It means people have accidents, heart attacks and babies at all hours of the day. Other businesses have defined hours for daily work, vacations and guaranteed “off hours” for Christmas Day or Thanksgiving.  That’s not the case for your local healthcare team. Patients need treatment no matter what time or day it is.

Enter the concept of “locum tenens,” which addresses staffing issues for all clinicians, including physicians and other healthcare providers, such as nurses and advanced practitioners like a physician assistant.  Staffing issues were a big problem long before the COVID-19 pandemic hit – shortages of both nursing and physicians. The pandemic just put an exclamation point on it, with 3 in 10 healthcare workers now thinking about leaving their profession as a result. 

Locum tenens means “placeholder” in Latin. In the hospital world it refers to a staffing healthcare model that allows clinicians to travel to points of service, like a trauma center or a critical access hospital with an emergency room, and offer services for a limited time (weekend or holiday, for example). Trying to find this type of credentialed clinician takes time and is an administrative burden on hospitals.

That’s where locum staffing agencies come in. They take on the stress of searching for specialists and provide easy access to credentialed clinicians who can “drop in” for a short term to cover the permanent clinician who is on the medical staff or employed by the health system. 

This is handled differently by each health system and often siloed by service line, which means that the emergency room handles their need for locum tenens staffing and the hospitalists do the same.  Here’s the next issue: the cost is high. Locum costs can be anywhere from twenty to fifty percent higher than the cost of a health systems staffing due the premium of the time (nights, weekend, holidays, etc.). 

There’s good news though. The cumbersome management process for locum tenens can be solved through automation.  

  1. Automating processes around locum tenens contracts and payments makes it easier for hospitals to have transparency for scheduling and invoicing in one spot, which is critical. As the cost and need of substitute staffing arises, the complexity of individual service lines hiring locum tenens with different agencies is a burden to health system administrative staff. 
  2. Automation technology can make managing costs per cycle easier for locum tenens. It can also help hospitals create analytics – whenever they need them – to better understand the predictable staffing needs and create cost saving strategies (vs “hiring when in pain,” which comes at a higher cost to every health system).
  3. Managing vendor relationships gets easier too with automation. It’s imperative for health systems and locum agencies to have strong relationships and tech infrastructure to manage the pace of staffing needs. Why? Because health systems need quality locum tenens, sometimes with no warning as a clinician may become ill. And locum agencies need invoicing infrastructure to properly measure service, timing and cost for the health system, and support accurate billing.
  4. Locum tenens are paid different pay rates depending on timing, specialty, etc. Managing these additional complications with a “sea of spreadsheets” due to volume alone is a headache for health system staff. Let automation technology take the lead here.
  5. Automation allows for a hyperfocus on specialty service lines that may cause issues, such as OB, Hospitalists and Behavioral Health. With automation, staffing patterns are much easier to see.  Without it, health teams are the mercy of whatever happens. 

Due to COVID-19, burnout among clinicians is high and the need for locum tenens has increased. At the same time, clinicians are now more open to working as a locum to avoid burnout and gain work flexibility. Compensation for health system clinicians will continue to be complex and expedient due to the demand of care. Automation of these issues is key for your locum tenens agency partner as it provides clarity into clinical partnerships. It also allows the executive team to better understand and manage the cost and staffing patterns to keep patient care excellent while managing operational costs. 

Learn more by viewing our DocTime Locum™ webinar or by visiting our Solutions page.

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