Healthcare News & Insights

The doctor is out: 4 ways to fill staffing gaps in health care

gettyimages-139911315It’s always a struggle for medical practices to find full-time, quality hires, and the challenge is exacerbated by a serious physician shortage expected to grow worse in the coming decade. This challenge is even harder when you’re trying to fill a temporary position. MaryAnn Stolgitis, VP of operations at a national recruiting and staffing firm, offers advice on how to find temporary clinicians. 

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A report from the Association of American Medical Colleges found somewhat daunting data. The U.S. population is growing by about 8.6%, while the number of physicians entering the workforce is increasing by only 5%. Depending on other factors such as physician retirement choices – 37% of doctors are 55 or older – the nation will likely have 61,700 to 94,700 fewer doctors than necessary by 2025.

Add in an increasing number of senior citizens and the 20 million people who entered the healthcare system through the Affordable Care Act, and the country faces a spike in demand for services coupled with a shrinking supply of providers.

This situation has led to growth in the locum tenens – Latin for “to hold a place” – industry, which allows physicians to practice medicine on a temporary basis at various locations. The approach could help offset surges in demand for short periods of time.

Vetting temporary hires

Finding a temporary clinician is usually a challenge because the need arises without much notice, stressing medical teams and hiring managers alike. Perhaps one of your veteran doctors feels burnt-out and suddenly needs some extended time away. Or maybe one of your nurse practitioners has to travel out of the region to help an ailing family member.

Whatever the reason, your operation must continue to deliver high-quality care with minimal disruption. Managers must quickly and efficiently vet temporary candidates with the same rigor they would apply to permanent hires. The most important qualities hiring managers should look for include:

  • Experience: The experience of the clinician translates to the quality of care patients receive. A candidate who lacks experience or has underdeveloped skills can cause your patient care to suffer.
  • Reliability: Providers need dedicated employees who will arrive on schedule and deliver exemplary care to their patients. Background checks and references from trusted sources are important.
  • Personality: A temporary provider must be able to quickly assimilate to new co-workers and a new environment. A recent review of clinical trials found that bedside manner can “greatly impact patients’ health.”
  • Education and certification: Education and board certification are at the foundation of all medical skills. Both can be valuable differentiators to ensure candidates have the requisite expertise to treat the patients they serve.

Stopgap staffing solutions

The process for finding temporary physicians might differ from recruiting permanent hires, but you’re still seeking candidates with many of the same qualities. Here are a few resources to help accelerate your hiring:

  1. Peer referrals: Who knows the needs of a facility better than the people who already work there? Healthcare professionals generally have large contact networks from their many years of education and training. Current employees often know of peers who might be able to fill coverage gaps.
    Doctors also prefer to find work through referrals. A study by Zeldis Research Associates found that 88% of physicians favor personal and professional referrals for leads in a job search.
  2. Professional associations: Nearly every medical practice has a corresponding national association. Groups such as the American Association of Nurse Practitioners and the American Academy of PAs offer career portals that allow providers to post openings and clinicians to browse jobs. This might not be the best approach if your need is time-sensitive.
  3. Telemedicine: A report from HIMSS Analytics found a 3% increase in organizations using telemedicine services in 2015 compared with 2014. Although that growth was relatively modest, it shows that more organizations see telemedicine as a way to improve patient access to health care.
  4. Outsourcing: For practices that want to circumvent the search process, locum tenens agencies offer a viable solution. A locum tenens staffing firm can save practices time and reduce risk by vetting candidates to verify credentials and experience; firms can also perform background checks to find any malpractice or legal issues.

While no cure-all exists for the growing physician shortage in the United States, there are several options to help you find quality doctors to fill temporary coverage gaps.

Strong referral programs, relationships with professional associations, telemedicine and locum tenens agencies offer an array of opportunities to address staffing issues. Whether a physician is out for a few weeks or a few months, it’s critical to identify a high-quality replacement to keep patients happy and healthy in the interim.

MaryAnn Stolgitis is VP of operations at Barton Associates, a national recruiting and staffing firm based in the Boston area that specializes in temporary healthcare assignments.

 

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