Nearly 90% 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, a major medical personnel employment agency.
In the medical world "locum tenens" (Latin for "hold a place"), describes physicians and other professionals who contract with a medical facility for a specific amount of time - weeks, months, or even years - before moving on to another locum tenens assignment in a new location. The practice originated in the U.S. in the 1970s to fill gaps in underserved regions of the country, and has exploded in recent years. Prior to the pandemic, the critical shortage was primarily in physicians and nursing but this has now expanded to include most medical professions.
AMN’s 2022 Survey of Locum Tenens Staffing Trends 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.
“A long-standing shortage of physicians, which has been exacerbated by COVID-19, has made locum tenens physicians an even more essential part of delivering quality care at most hospitals in the United States,” said Jeff Decker, Division President of Locum Tenens at AMN Healthcare. “They are part of an increasingly flexible healthcare workforce that can be mobile and able to deliver care when and where they are needed most.”
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% 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. According to Decker, hospitals, medical groups, and other facilities need more anesthesia providers as procedures requiring anesthesia have rebounded from COVID-19 related lows. Hospitalists, a type of physician specializing in hospital inpatient care, 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, according to Decker.
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%) said they are adding new incentives, such as signing bonuses, to their recruiting packages. An additional 49% are implementing new retention efforts, including offering retention bonuses to providers. Forty-three percent are adding temporary staff while 35% 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% are canceling elective procedures, and 11% 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,” Decker said. “Additional provider training, the expansion of telemedicine, and reduced barriers to licensure will be essential to addressing this longstanding healthcare challenge.”
AMN Healthcare’s 2022 Survey of Locum Tenens Staffing Trends (formerly conducted by Staff Care, a division of AMN Healthcare) is based on responses from 202 hospital, medical group, and other healthcare facility managers. A copy of the survey report can be accessed here.