The 5 ways hospitals benefit from using locum tenens

In the 1970s two physicians from the University of Utah developed a program that sent temporary physicians into rural hospitals while local physicians received needed training.

Their program went on to become the locum tenens industry. Locum tenens, which means "to stand in one’s place,” sends traveling physicians to rural areas to provide much needed healthcare.

That initial concept has since expanded to include temporary medical staffing to any healthcare facility across the country, including physicians, NPs, and PAs. Many other health professionals also work in traveling roles. It has also made a tremendous impact in the medical industry; in fact, in 2017 my company, CompHealth, placed more than 4,600 healthcare providers who served more than 6.4 million patients.

Thousands of hospitals around the country now utilize locum tenens to improve outcomes, empower employees, help hiring managers find the best employees and even save the hospital money, but many still may not realize all of its benefits. Here are a few ways I’ve seen locum tenens benefit hospitals and other healthcare facilities.

Positive patient care

The area where locum tenens has the most important impact is in positive patient care. Physicians and care providers (many with key specialties) are often desperately needed in remote or rural areas, and can be brought in as needed through a locum tenens provider.

Recently, a hospital in Iowa brought in a locum tenens doctor for weekend coverage. At one point, a boy was admitted to the hospital with severe abdominal pain, which was quickly diagnosed as a burst appendix. Since that particular hospital was a two-hour ambulance ride from Des Moines, the boy likely would have died in transit if a qualified locum tenens doctor had not been on hand.

Although coverage for medical emergencies is a dramatic example, most instances of positive patient care through locum tenens are expanded medical options, availability for appointments and better patient access to clinical help. Through locum tenens, hospitals can continually offer a much greater range of services to patients, regardless of where they live.

Employee and physician engagement

If a hospital has three general surgeons and one of them retires, moves to another hospital or passes away, it casts a significant burden on the remaining doctors. Suddenly, each surgeon is now responsible for half of the leaving physician’s workload and must be available when the other doctor is not, instead of splitting the workload into even thirds.

On average, it takes 30 months for a hospital in a low-population area to hire a specialist on a permanent basis. If the two surgeons do carry that extra load for two-and-a-half years, the possibility they become burned out or disengaged increases drastically. The same holds true for the entire staff, as that key vacancy puts increased workloads on nurses, PAs, NPs and techs, among others.

Bringing in a locum tenens surgeon helps the hospital spread out the workload, improving or maintaining high employee engagement while administrators search for a permanent replacement. In many cases, a hospital finds the engagement benefits profound enough that it brings in even more support staff to further decrease the chance of burnout.

Finding better permanent providers

In addition to improving engagement with current staff members, locum tenens can be one of the most important tools in a recruiter’s toolkit for finding the right person to fill key positions. The ability to bring in expert doctors to fill gaps on a temporary basis gives recruiters much more time to seek out and recruit the perfect candidate.

Finding a new physician who will be a good long-term fit for both the hospital and the community has an outsized impact in rural or economically disadvantaged areas, so it is important to not unduly rush the process. There are few things more difficult for an entire staff than having a bad fit for a permanent position.

When administrators are pressured by circumstances to move quickly, it becomes easier to make the wrong choice. Bringing in locum tenens medical staff helps to buy time and breathing room to properly consider candidates. Sometimes, the locum tenens doctor even becomes the right fit, too.

Business flexibility

When considering department staffing, working with a trusted locum tenens partner allows administrators to bring in medical staff for shorter time frames (30 to 90 days, for example) without needing to sign multi-year contracts with care providers. This is particularly helpful when hospitals are considering new programs and are not sure whether they will have the patient load to support it.

For example, employing hospitalists has been shown to improve how quickly patients get well and are able to leave the hospital. One of the primary ways hospitalists accomplish this is by decreasing comorbidity and other secondary concerns through frequent rounds.

If a facility wants to consider a hospitalist program, or a cardiovascular surgery department, or any other expansion, locum tenens medical staff can help administrators evaluate the potential benefits, problems and roadblocks that might get in the way without investing in a permanent program. Temporary staffing gives hospitals the tools to ramp up experimental programs and the flexibility to close them down if it isn’t working.

Additional gap coverage and financial benefits

Most use cases for locum tenens are around gap coverage. If a doctor goes on maternity leave or just wants to take a vacation, temporary staffing helps make sure hospitals are not short-handed. This improves patient outcomes, which is the primary interest of everyone on a hospital staff.

When used correctly, locum tenens can also help administrators focus on the financial well-being of the facility. Physicians generate the majority of the revenue for hospitals and if they are not seeing patients, they are not bringing in money. That financial gap must be closed as well, to assure the hospital is able to continue providing its services. Proactively using a locum tenens provider assures hospitals will be revenue-positive.

Hospitals and administrators will continue to benefit as they find a trusted locum tenens provider and utilize its services appropriately. The key results of this under-utilized care solution are continued positive patient care, a high level of employee engagement, more time for recruiters to find full-time talent, flexibility to experiment with new programs and continued financial stability.

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