The COVID-19 pandemic has undoubtedly created new challenges in almost every aspect of our lives. Nowhere is the impact felt more acutely than at the front lines of healthcare. From initial PPE shortages to protocol changes, the medical field has continued to adapt and evolve in response to this novel virus.
Forced into a steep learning curve, hospitals and medical practices across the country have efficiently accelerated the development of alternate service delivery models, like telehealth services, to match patient care standards in a demanding environment. Administrators have had to meet unprecedented system needs and face questions that are unparalleled in our recent history.
And we are not done.
If anything, COVID-19 has highlighted the importance of systems adaptability. Medical administrators and hospital personnel have had to pivot — and then pivot again — to keep pace with a fluid, stressful, dynamic situation.
Indeed, the impact of COVID is shaping our medical model now and will continue to influence the indefinite future. Medical staffing is one area of inherent challenge. Physician burnout appears to be at an all-time high, concurrent with massive exits permeating the medical field. Likewise, the explosion of telehealth has permanently altered patient care and blurred borders of how, when, and where physicians can practice.
Altogether, these factors highlight the need for functional changes in staffing so managers can sufficiently meet care demands while maintaining superior quality of care and a positive bottom line.
The Challenges of Healthcare Staffing
Health administrators are consistently being asked to pivot their staffing needs. Often, these pivots can come at the cost of recruitment and training. Other challenges change the way that those adjustments need to be attacked.
All Hands on Deck Leads to Burnout
The work of being a physician carries immense responsibility and stress. Of course, the stakes are high with patient care; life and death decisions are part of a typical workday. It’s no surprise that physicians are especially prone to burnout.
Indeed, the pandemic has created ongoing “all hands on deck” scenarios with extended shift hours, frequently with minimal vacation time available. Administrators are tasked with balancing critical patient needs with the personal work-life balance needs of their personnel. It is no easy feat to have sufficient staff to cover shifts, specialties available, and the ability to meet the needs of all patients while allowing essential staff time off to recharge.
Forthcoming Exits in Medicine
Some studies estimate that more than 1/3 of frontline healthcare workers are considering leaving their professions. Citing burnout, mental health impacts, and lack of job satisfaction, many healthcare workers retire early or change careers.
With a coming shortage of physicians by 2034, statistics show that those shortfalls will occur in both primary and specialty care. A Physicians Foundation survey revealed that over the last two years, physicians are retiring earlier, citing COVID concerns and loss of income. The current pace of retirement adds an already stressed burden to younger physicians who are adding new patients in droves as physicians close practices. In addition, 55% of physicians surveyed believe that there will be significantly fewer independent practices after the end of the pandemic.
The Toll of Telemedicine
While telehealth visits have been around for years, it was not until the emergence of COVID-19 that virtual medical visits came to the forefront of patient care. This service was expanded due in large part to regulatory waivers, and while they aren’t permanent, lawmakers are trying to find a way to permanently develop some features of telehealth. In response, many physicians began seeing patients virtually. And while this decision decreased possible COVID transmission, there were additional consequences to this shift.
Some physicians now prefer a telehealth model where they can work from home or decrease travel to offices far from their home, leading to shortages in physician coverage. In a 2020 survey from The Physicians Foundation, 12% of doctors reported that they’ve switched primarily to a telemedical practice. With fewer physicians joining the “in-person” pool, a general staffing shortfall in medicine is more likely.
Your Staffing Solutions
Changes in staffing strategies can help solve many of these challenges. For example, hiring administrators can use a few simple practices to fill the holes left by retirement and the closing of private practices in their community.
Fill Holes with Telemedicine
While telemedicine is potentially contributing to staffing shortages, it can be part of the solution. For short-staffed hospitals that can’t fill vacancies, developing relationships with telemedical locums providers may provide some relief. Advanced Practice Providers and teleradiology specialists have found a niche in telehealth and can fill holes in over-burdened schedules.
Telemedicine may also help bridge the gap in patient-care needs in certain situations by offering some patient-load shifts to virtual visits.
Understanding Locum Tenens Staffing
Locum tenens are another valuable solution that addresses some of the staffing challenges COVID has created in medicine. To be sure, it offers substantial benefits for a hospital or medical practice and the physician working in this role.
Locum tenens staff are highly trained, temporary healthcare providers. Indeed, locum tenens staffing has many benefits, including coverage in critical need areas to allow core staff much-needed time off so that patient care seamlessly continues in the provider’s absence.
The use of locum tenens is a boon for patients as it can reduce wait time for procedures by adding more physicians to the schedule. This, in turn, improves patient care overall. By implementing temporary staffing now, administrators can use patient care results to determine if a permanent change — such as a new, full-time hire — is a positive investment.
Meanwhile, more physicians are considering locum tenens as a career because of the increased schedule autonomy it allows. This is a benefit to hospital administrators who are feeling the weight of the current challenges of staffing. A temporary employment model offers hospitals a chance to use healthcare providers that are available in times of crisis while making plans to find solutions in a post-pandemic setting.
The Big Picture
All in all, the COVID pandemic has irrevocably changed the course of medicine and science. Hospitals and medical practices are ready to respond to the new challenges of patient care service delivery and allocation of physician resources to best meet the need of the greater population.
By understanding the trends, and preparing for the future of medicine, each organization can be optimally prepared to provide top-notch medical care to any patient in need. In general, by exploring locum tenens networks, administrators can make decisions that are proactive rather than reactive to the inevitable upcoming stresses of our healthcare system.
Together, as a global health community, we can optimize patient care in every area of the country by adapting our employment models to meet the novel challenges of our times. As always, we rise to the challenge.