Recent years have seen a rise in the use of locum tenens, or temporary physician staffing, as healthcare organizations deal with rising demand and physician shortages. In fact, an AMN Healthcare survey found that 88% of healthcare organizations use locum tenens physicians. This is up from 84% in 2019.
Healthcare facilities in need of temporary coverage for vacations, sick leaves, or other absences may turn to locum tenens to fill the gaps. Ensuring resource coverage and flexibility are just a couple of the advantages that locum tenens can offer, but there are drawbacks as well.
High Locum Tenens Costs
One of the biggest challenges with locum tenens staffing is the cost. Compared to employing a full-time physician, a locum tenens physician’s hourly rate is often significantly higher. Furthermore, healthcare organizations might be required to cover travel, housing, and other expenses related to temporary staffing. The AMN Survey found that 85% of respondents cited the cost of locum tenens providers to be a major drawback.
Another challenge with using locum tenens is the potential for turnover and burnout. In comparison to full-time physicians, temporary doctors might not be as committed to the organization or the patients, and they might quit soon after they start. Increased recruitment and onboarding expenses may result from this turnover. Additional stressors that locum tenens doctors may experience include travel, unfamiliar work settings, and heavy patient loads leading to burnout. This can incur additional unanticipated costs for the hospital as additional time and effort may be required to train new locum tenens replacements.
Lack of Operational Familiarity
Compounding the high up-front cost and potential cost of locum tenens churn is the temporary provider’s lack of familiarity with procedures, operational processes and equipment. This can lead to additional soft costs to get providers’ time-to-productivity up. The AMN Survey found that the lack of familiarity with the hospitals’ departments (53%) and learning procedures and equipment operations (30%) were the additional challenges of employing locum tenens physicians.
Reduced Continuity of Care
Perhaps the most critical challenge of using locum tenens is the potential impact on patient outcomes and their continuity of care. It’s possible that temporary doctors are less familiar with the hospital’s EHR or communication and collaboration practices for care transitions to permanent providers. Patients also may have concerns about seeing a different physician each time they visit. This lack of familiarity with the organization and patients can cause adverse events – which can increase costs, as well as lower care quality, dissatisfaction, and a decline in loyalty. These factors all contribute to a potential decline in the hospital’s long-term sustainability.
The Telemedicine Alternative
Telemedicine delivers a compelling alternative to hospitals in need of temporary physicians to meet staffing gaps, night coverage or specialty resources. The overall cost is dramatically lower and with solutions that offer an assigned “pod” of regular physicians, churn and burnout is dramatically reduced. The assigned team of telemedicine providers become an enduring extension of the on-staff team, building relationships and collaboration that drives enhanced care and hospital commitment.
Telemedicine physicians are also not burdened by the stress of travel or learning new equipment, processes or procedures for each new engagement. Instead, they are embedded for the long term, delivering greater care continuity and responsiveness, again without the added hard and soft costs. Ultimately, this improves patient outcomes, expands hospital specialties, enhances revenue for increased sustainability and builds patient loyalty with increased satisfaction and care access.
In conclusion, while locum tenens have been a growing go-to solution for hospitals needing more provider coverage, they also have their challenges – high costs, churn, time to productivity and diminishing care continuity.
To help remedy healthcare challenges in our modern-day clinics and hospitals, such as physician burnout, staffing shortages, and more, consider the customizable telemedicine programs, featuring a dedicated “pod” of telemedicine physicians, offered by Eagle Telemedicine. With Eagle you can create an individualized plan for your hospital’s specific needs.
Check out our latest on-demand webinar: 5 Things to Know Before You Kick Off a Telemedicine Program.