The number of people in the U.S. vaccinated against COVID-19 is gradually rising, and public confidence in the safety of healthcare facilities is returning. Patients are now scheduling routine procedures that they elected to postpone at the height of the pandemic.  

This has introduced a new problem: a patient backlog that threatens to overwhelm providers. 

Physicians and advanced practice providers have long struggled with burnout due to long hours, administrative duties, and poor work-life balance. The emotional toll of working in facilities overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients resulted in a spike in depression and anxiety among clinicians.1  

Locum tenens is an important component in alleviating pressure on full-time providers and meeting escalating demand for care in the midst of a physician shortage. Locum tenens agencies are in the best position to facilitate provider recruitment and mobilization. 

Factors Driving the Patient Backlog 

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, addressing patient needs has been a challenge due to a provider shortage across the U.S. With approximately 45% of physicians being age 55 or above,2 that shortage was exacerbated as older providers at higher risk from the virus ceased practicing to protect themselves and their families.  

Patients, also wishing to avoid contracting the virus, delayed elective procedures and routine care in unprecedented numbers at the height of the pandemic. In the U.S., about 41% of adults delayed or avoided care, including urgent or emergency care, due to COVID-19 concerns.3 Because of this interruption, some patients have experienced unmonitored disease progression, and now require more intensive care. 

The Impact on Providers and Patients 

Provider burnout has already been climbing, with 42% of physicians reporting feeling burned out in 2020.4 The addition of a surge in patient volume to their existing challenges, such as the physician shortage, may make their work unsustainable if facilities aren’t willing to find solutions.  

The consequences for patients may be dire, with some elective procedures becoming emergent over time. Patients are exhibiting disease progression that otherwise would have been detected by preventative care. It has also become more difficult than ever for patients to access healthcare, particularly in rural communities where retaining providers year-round has always been a challenge. 

How Locums Can Help 

There are two advantages of locum tenens that are key to addressing a backlog of patients:

  1. The ability to reroute providers where they’re most needed. 
  2. The reduced burnout locum tenens providers experience when given more control over the duration and location of their work.  

Locum tenens providers are less prone to burnout than full-time providers not only due to the temporary nature of their assignments, but because they spend less time on bureaucratic tasks, a factor to which 58% of physicians attributed their burnout in 2021.5 

Employing locum tenens physicians makes more economic sense for facilities than hiring additional full-time providers in order to meet a temporary surge in patient volume. The use of locum tenens providers can both reduce pressure on existing staff (therefore minimizing turnover), and increase patient satisfaction by making access to care easier in areas where a provider shortage exists. 

A Partnership Between Locums Agencies and Facilities 

While not an end-all solution to addressing the patient backlog, locum tenens is an important tool for increasing access to healthcare and minimizing pressure on full-time providers. It’s a strategy that should be used by facilities even after patient volumes return to pre-COVID-19 levels to offset the impact of provider shortages. 

Locum tenens agencies are uniquely positioned to make the mobilization of the locums workforce easier for both facilities and providers. With a nationwide network of providers and facility partners, providers can be routed both where they’re needed most and where their needs will be met.

Hayes Locums is an experienced locum tenens agency that helps medical providers find fulfilling work, and helps facilities find the best match for open positions. Start today by searching for an open position, or see what we can do to address your facility’s staffing needs and contact us for more information.

Have more questions about locum tenens? Let’s talk. Call 1-888-837-3172.