Operating a modern healthcare facility, whether that be a clinic, hospital, industrial setting, or some hybrid model, is almost as much about managing the financial viability of the organization as it is about the healthcare being delivered by staff. Let’s be honest: if you can’t afford to keep your doors open, no one is going to receive care from your team. We don’t like to acknowledge that finances often drive choices in healthcare, but that’s frequently the reality, especially when it comes to staffing. We understand the burdens healthcare facilities and organizations face when costs are a top priority, and in this article, we’ll provide information about how to stay profitable when staffing with locum tenens healthcare providers.
The Importance of Considering Cost
When administrators are confronted with the costs of doing business, one of the factors that they must consider is the price of locum staffing. Can facilities afford to bridge gaps in permanent employment or cover temporary needs with locums? Can administrators afford to bring in additional short-term staffing when there’s an acute or unexpected need?
Temporary staffing needs are often urgent and always important. Administrators want quality providers who can help weather any gap in coverage. But with the cost of locum services, the responsibility for managing revenue and expenses must be acknowledged.
If you’re analyzing the cost and benefit of locum staffing, there are strategies you can use to ensure you’re getting the most benefit from the service you’re buying.
Benefits of Hiring Locum Tenens Providers
Bringing staff in is always going to be an investment, from the cost of the locum provider’s pay to the cost of travel and temporary housing in the community.
However, several factors make locum staffing a good choice on all sides.
- If a clinic has a locum provider working, they’re able to see patients and the clinic can bill for services, rather than having a staff vacancy and not being able to accommodate patient needs, resulting in lost revenue.
- Having appropriate provider coverage reduces and manages risks that come from poor patient care and avoidable or even tragic adverse outcomes. No one likes to contemplate these scenarios, but the cost of temporary staffing doesn’t begin to compare to the cost of a patient lawsuit.
- Consider the savings with no benefits being paid out to the locum provider, no 401K matches, no health insurance, no paid leave, etc.
- The most obvious benefit to providing locum coverage is that patients are served, and healthcare needs are managed. There is simply no doubt that appropriate provider staffing is in the patients’ best interests. Whether services provided are routine, urgent, or emergent, patients will have better outcomes with providers on-site at their local facility who can address their needs rather than having to divert to other locations, perhaps at great distances from their home settings.
In addition to the bottom-line savings or revenue that would show up on your financial spreadsheet, other benefits are less tangible but still very real.
Locums Can Make Your Facility Money by Expanding Service Offerings
Locum providers bring many positive benefits in addition to covering your primary location and clinic hours. They can also increase a facility’s capacity for extended services.
- Extra staff may allow for longer clinic weekday hours, weekend hours, or added urgent care / walk-in services.
- Sports physicals, immunization clinics, wellness fairs, and other community outreach programs are excellent opportunities to invite patients to become familiar with your practice. These events create community goodwill and locum providers can easily staff them as deep knowledge of patients is not necessary, the encounters are typically brief, and many patients can be seen in a short period.
- If you have locum providers who can offer specialized procedures that fit with facility capabilities, those services can add revenue.
- If the facility has satellite locations, locum staff may be able to increase services being provided outside the main clinic site, and in turn, generate more revenue.
Locums Can Save You Money When Hiring Full-Time
For long-term benefits, inviting a locum provider to work in your facility can be an excellent way to recruit! If you’re using locum staff to fill in for an employee vacancy, you may end up hiring the person who came out to work a temporary job. In effect, you’ve arranged for a working interview, and there’s no better way to know someone will be a good fit for your organization than to have them work with your staff for a few weeks or months. Knowing up front that the provider you’re hiring will be successful in your practice can save enormous costs in relocation expenses and wasted time, rather than experiencing financial loss if you hire someone who is not a good match for your site!
Whether you request a “locum to perm” provider when you arrange the locum assignment, or you have someone who joins your staff as a temporary provider but becomes interested in moving to your community and taking an open position, either approach can work.
Proactive Training, Supervision, and Scheduling Can Save You Money
To ensure you’re billing for services appropriately, set yourself up for success with proactive training, supervision, and scheduling. Here are a few recommendations of things to consider.
- When you plan a locum assignment, make sure your IT staff is prepared to grant the provider access to your network, electronic record, and any other system that is essential for them to see patients in your facility. Delays in gaining access, scheduling required training, and even having equipment available for them to use can delay their ability to be seeing patients on their first morning at work. Preparation in advance will pave the way for a smooth and productive start!
- Make sure the locum provider is sufficiently trained on the EMR your facility is using, and that they are documenting and coding appropriately. Many locum providers are proficient on multiple electronic records, but even if they’ve previously used the record you’re utilizing, likely there will be features unique to your facility that they may need to learn.
- Provide feedback if they are not meeting documentation requirements for coding and billing.
- Fill their schedule appropriately. (But don’t over-burden locum staff either. Remember, every patient is new to a locum provider, and not knowing resources in the region, perhaps being new to the EMR, and unfamiliar with clinic staff and processes will slow even the best provider until they get comfortable in their temporary practice setting.)
- Make sure reception and nursing staff know the locum provider is coming to fill in and how long they’ll be working for the facility so they can schedule patients appropriately.
- Open the locum schedule ahead of time so patients can be booked in.
- Check what procedures or services the locum might be able to add to your offerings, these may be services that will generate higher billings.
- When not busy seeing patients, use locums to do staff training and education. This pays off in the long run! Have them mentor new providers on staff if applicable during downtime.
In addition to proactive training, administrators should make sure the locum rates are market compatible with other agencies or providers. But don’t fixate on the rate alone. Sometimes the adage “you get what you pay for” can be seen in the quality of the provider you’ll be offered. You want to be sure that anyone you would consider working in your clinic has great experience, references, skills, and understanding of their role as a locum provider. When you’re choosing an agency to work with, look for quality and reputation as well as a fair rate.
The Cost of Burnout and Your Permanent Staff
It is not uncommon for full-time healthcare providers to be feeling the effects of burnout. If your permanent staff is shorthanded, bringing in locum providers helps avoid burnout and discouragement among the existing team. Knowing that locum staff can share the burden of the daily schedule, call, and holiday coverage allows permanent staff to continue with their lives, vacations, family commitments, and practice parameters that keep them healthy emotionally and physically.
When providers are overworked, can’t get away for vacations and important personal commitments, and feel stressed and pressed for time with their patients, morale, and attitude are always going to suffer. If the situation goes on long enough, the facility is likely to lose more permanent staff due to the negative intangibles. What begins as a provider shortage may spread to other staff as well, creating a downward spiral that can be hard to reverse.
As a locum agency, you would expect Wilderness Medical Staffing to be very supportive of using temporary providers to cover staffing shortages, and we are! But our bias isn’t just about our own company’s revenue, far from it! We’ve seen the difference quality staffing can make in everything from revenue to patient outcomes to the impact on whole communities, and we’re convinced that the benefits of using locum providers far exceed the costs.
If you’re wondering how locum staffing would work in your facility using WMS providers (all of whom are thoroughly screened and personally qualified by our staff through multiple interviews and assessment tools) we would be happy to review your needs, learn about your patient population, location, and any factors that make your site unique. We can recommend providers who would be excellent for your practice, and we stay in close touch with the professionals we place as well as the clients we serve to be sure that our assignments are going well for everyone.
We’ve been in business for over 12 years, and the mission at the heart of all we do is service for patients and remote and rural communities who have provider needs. Let us work with you to prove our confidence in the quality of our providers and the skills they bring to the communities they serve. There’s little doubt you’ll see the benefit of using our providers in your bottom line. There’s no doubt you’ll see the benefit in your patients and their lives!