New Survey Shows Widespread Use Of Locum Tenens Providers During Pandemic

Close to 90 percent of healthcare facilities used locum tenens physicians and/or advanced practice professionals to fill gaps in their staffs last year, according to a new survey from AMN Healthcare. 

        The company’s 2022 Survey of Locum Tenens Staffing Trends: Moving Toward a More Flexible Physician Workforce indicates that 88% of hospitals, medical groups, and other healthcare facilities used locum tenens physicians, nurse practitioners (NPs) and/or physician assistants (PAs) sometime in the prior 12 months, primarily to address staffing shortages. 

         Seventy percent of those surveyed indicated they use locum tenens physicians and other providers to maintain services while they seek to fill openings in their permanent staffs.   Twenty-five percent use them to meet rising patient demand, while 13 percent use them to address provider burnout, which has become more prevalent due to COVID-19.

COVID-19 Driving Use of Locum Tenens Providers

      Anesthesia providers, including anesthesiologists and certified registered nurse anesthetists (CRNAs) were the most utilized type of locum tenens healthcare professionals last year, the survey indicates.   Hospitals, medical groups and other facilities need more anesthesia providers as procedures requiring anesthesia have rebounded from COVID-19 related lows.  Hospitalists were the second most utilized type of locum tenens provider, due to the large volume of hospital inpatient work created by COVID-19.  Psychiatrists were third on the list, as COVID-19 has increased the incidence of mental health problems nationwide and has highlighted the dearth of behavioral health professionals that preceded the pandemic.

Health Facilities Taking Steps to Address Staffing Shortages

       The survey asked hospital and medical group managers to indicate what their facilities are doing to address staffing shortages.   The majority (54 percent) said they are adding new incentives, such as signing bonuses, to their recruiting packages.   An additional 49 percent are implementing new retention efforts, including offering retention bonuses to providers.   Forty-three percent are adding temporary staff while 35 percent are expanding telehealth services.

       In addition, some facilities are cutting back on services in response to staffing shortages, a strategy that was common during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, when many healthcare facilities curtailed elective procedures and other services.    Eighteen percent of those surveyed said their facilities are reducing hours of service in some areas, 14 percent are canceling elective procedures, and 11 percent are eliminating some services lines and programs.

      The fact that healthcare facilities continue to halt electives or reduce hours due to a lack of staff underscores the direct connection between staffing shortages and patient access to care. Additional provider training, the expansion of telemedicine and reduced barriers to licensure will be essential to addressing this longstanding healthcare challenge.  

       Access AMN Healthcare’s 2022 Survey of Locum Tenens Staffing Trends: Moving Toward a More Flexible Physician Workforce (formerly conducted by Staff Care, a division of AMN Healthcare).

Phillip Miller is Senior Principal of Thought Leadership for AMN Healthcare and can be reached at phil.miller@amnhealthcare.com.

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