A 6 minute read
October 30, 2019

Provider shortages are an ongoing issue in today's healthcare market. Recent nursing strikes have only highlighted a need for locum tenens (or travelling) providers.

The Latin-to-English translation of "locum tenens" means “to hold a place.” Locum tenens providers fill in for other providers on a temporary basis (anywhere between a few days to six months or more). When a healthcare employer faces temporary staffing shortages, they hire locum tenens, or "travel", providers to fill those vacancies. 

In the midst of a staffing shortage, there are a large number of benefits associated with hiring locum tenens providers, including avoiding nursing strikes, improving rural care, reducing costs, and easing the loads of overworked facilities.

1. Avoid nursing strikes

Last month, more than 2,200 nurses went on strike at the University of Chicago Medical Center. And provider strikes only continue to escalate; just four days ago, nurses at Sacred Heart voted to authorize a strike, pending the outcome of union negotiations.

It's no secret that healthcare staffing remains an issue, particularly with an aging baby boomer population requiring more care - and providers - than ever before. On top of that, many nurses and physicians are riding the silver tsunami to retirement, leaving wide-open gaps in this employment market. So, naturally, nurses are feeling the pressure, which stems from two places. First, hospitals are increasingly merging and acquiring each other, which can breed insecurity. And, second, nurses are starting to understand that they are in high demand, which will only get worse as baby boomers continue to retire from the workforce. 

That's why many organizations are turning to locum tenens nurses, or "travel registered nurses (RNs)" and "travel nurse practitioners, (NPs)" who are able to fill gaps and improve nurse-to-patient ratios, typically over the course of a three month venture. According to an August 2019 SIA study, travel nurse revenue rose three percent over the past year, and will likely continue to increase given the recent strikes. 

2. Improve rural care

Provider shortages are also affecting rural facilities’ ability to care for patients. Urban hospitals are plagued by a shortage of providers, and rural hospitals may have it even worse. Generally, young medical school graduates look to begin their careers in cities where they can learn as much as possible, and live among their peer groups. With only one-fifth of the American population living in rural areas, and an even smaller physician population working therein, locum tenens may be a primary solution to the staffing shortage (in addition to technologies like telehealth).

Locum tenens are able to quickly fill vacancies, avoiding the long process of finding a physician, nurse practitioner, or physician assistant willing to move to a rural setting, while simultaneously easing the burden for overloaded physicians. And, not only are locums able to quickly fill temporary shortages and vacancies, but they are also more budget-friendly and flexible than full-time workers.

3. Reduce costs

While it seems easy to cut a few corners and remain slightly short-staffed, in the long term healthcare organizations have the potential to suffer substantial losses in revenue from patients who don't have access to the specialty areas they need, or turnover and churn within the unhappy and overworked staff. Over time, this type of leakage could really affect the organization's bottom line.

Given this, locum tenens may be the right choice. Sometimes, it can take a number of months to locate and credential the right provider to join a facility permanently, so taking advantage of locum tenens providers during the search may help prevent dramatic drops in revenue. Granted, temporary physicians, including locum tenens physicians, may initially struggle to efficiently and effectively deliver care or coordinate care transitions. But, it has been shown that locum tenens physicians are just as safe as non-temporary physicians.

Another cost-related factor to consider: sometimes hiring locum tenens providers makes sense in the context of the busy season. Providers are typically busiest in the summer and early fall - vacation coverage, flu season, and other factors - and locum tenens helps fill those holes for a short period of time, without the need to hire full-time providers at a higher cost.

4. Ease the burden of overworked facilities

We are now living in a world where overworked providers are struggling to find the time to take on new patients — and one where physician burnout, a condition directly linked to exhausting work schedules, is on the rise. For this reason, locum tenens providers are incredibly valuable. Having immediate access to a huge pool of ready-to-go talent, without the pain of drawn-out interviews and onboarding training is a great benefit.

Most Overworked Facilities (by workload index)

Rank Hospital Name  Fixed Physician Workload  Definitive ID
1. Lahey Hospital & Medical Center - Burlington 12.4922 1956
2. Rutland Regional Medical Center 12.0086 4251
3. Berkshire Medical Center 11.5672 1924
4. Cheshire Medical Center  11.1960 2617
5. Geisinger Wyoming Valley Medical Center 11.0526 3531
6. Beebe Medical Center 10.1088 747
7. Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center 9.97134 2625
8. Canton-Potsdam Hospital 9.86601 2892
9. The University of Vermont Medical Center 9.71725 4246
10. Penn Highlands Dubois 9.63325 3480

Fig 1: Definitive Healthcare data as of October 2019, found within Staffing & Recruiting Analytics DHC visual tool.

If you are a recruiter or provider looking to hire locum tenens providers, it may be in your best interest to invest in a tool containing the names, locations, availability, and contact information for these individuals. Software platforms like Definitive Healthcare can help with this.

Map of Most Overworked Facilities (by workload index)


Fig 2: Interactive Staffing and Recruiting Analytics dashboard from Definitive Healthcare. Image features a map of hospitals, color-coded by ratio of contract labor spending to bed utilization (left) and a list of the most overworked facilities by workload index (right).

Looking for more information on how to streamline recruiting and physician placement? Sign up for a free trial to access Definitive Healthcare's interactive Staffing and Recruiting Analytics dashboard. Identify the most overworked facilities by location and sort by affiliated physicians, predicted need for locum tenens providers, average bed utilization rates, and other filters.

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Tory Waldron

Tory Waldron is a communications professional with a lifelong passion for writing and editing. Before joining Definitive Healthcare, she spent three years at a PR agency working with various B2B ...

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