What to look for when choosing a locum tenens agency

It's simple. If a physician isn't seeing patients, your hospital isn't making money.

If a doctor goes on maternity leave, takes a leave of absence, or just schedules a long vacation, you're losing revenue—unless you have someone to fill in.

Locum tenens physicians have become the go-to solution for many temporary staffing gaps, allowing hospitals and facilities to continue to see patients and collect revenue when a full-time staff member is unavailable or when workload increases.

There are now dozens, if not hundreds, of locum tenens companies finding doctors to help with open jobs. But not all locum tenens agencies are created equal. Here are a few things to look for when choosing a staffing partner.

1. A good understanding of your culture. One of the most common complaints we hear from hospitals is that they hired the wrong doctor. They'll say, "The physician had the right clinical skills, but when he joined the team, he just didn't fit." Any locum tenens company can get a doctor who looks good on paper. Make sure to work with an agency that understands your facility's unique culture and doesn't waste your time by sending job candidates who aren't a good match.

2. Commitment to the physicians they place. The locum tenens agency is responsible for the physician's malpractice insurance, travel and housing. It's important to work with a staffing company that is competent in addressing issues in any or all of these areas, should they arise.

3. High ethical standards. Standards for the locum tenens industry are driven by NALTO, the National Association of Locum Tenens Organizations. Companies that belong to NALTO (about 50 percent of all agencies) agree to live up to the organization's strict ethical standards, including maintaining physicians' privacy and honoring all contractual agreements.

4. Litigation management services. Hopefully, you will have nothing but good experiences with your locum tenens physicians and their patients. However, if something goes wrong, your best defense is a locum tenens staffing company with dedicated risk and legal personnel. The staffing company should also know the medical experts and skilled malpractice defense attorneys in the physician's specialty to assist with the case.

5. Expertise in physician credentialing. Though locum doctors are great for planned staffing needs, they're most often used when hospitals need someone right away. You'll get a doctor quicker when you work with a locums agency that is large enough to have its own in-house credentialing team and is also expert in licensing and privileging.

More than anything else, the locum tenens staffing agency you choose should be professional, offer a wide variety of assignments and provide exceptional customer service. In fact, you don't need to limit yourself to just one agency; most hospitals work with one or two primary staffing agencies to ensure coverage in physician specialties they use most.

Melissa Byington is president of the locum tenens division of CompHealth, the nation's largest locum tenens physician staffing company and a leader in permanent and temporary allied healthcare staffing. Melissa's career in physician recruiting spans nearly two decades.

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