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What Are Locums in Healthcare? A Complete Guide

doctor standing with nurses in the background

Locum tenens, also short-handedly referred to as locums, are physicians that temporarily fill staffing gaps whenever necessary. Conceived in the 1970s, locums originally filled staffing gaps in rural communities that didn't have great access to healthcare; but today, locums have become a mainstay in the healthcare space, utilized by all. 


According to a recent survey, around 84% of healthcare facilities utilized locum tenens sometimes, often, or very often in the past year. Much of this is due to the fact that the industry as a whole has recently observed unprecedented rates of burnout and other factors that have contributed to industry-wide staffing shortages. In fact, the Association of American Medical Colleges predicts there will be a staffing shortage of over 100,000 doctors by 2030. But whether or not you view locums as a necessary evil due to their higher-than-average wages, the fact remains that they are here to stay for the near future. 


Here, we'll delve into what locums are in healthcare, how they work, and how to manage them effectively.


Benefits of Locum Tenens

Added Flexibility for Healthcare Professionals and Administration

Although locums are most often used in facilities that are experiencing higher-than-normal patient volumes or staffing shortages, one of the main benefits of a locum physician harkens back to why they were first invented — to relieve overworked staff. Allowing full-time staff to take a vacation without having to worry whether their absence will affect quality of care is essential in any healthcare organization. This improves overall staff retention efforts (a major priority for healthcare leaders today) by reducing burnout and providing a healthier work-life balance to key staff members.

Locum tenens help all healthcare staff, even administrators, reduce their workload so they can focus on more timely tasks or have more time for their personal lives. This is because administrative duties, when it comes to locum tenens, are often carried out by third-party agencies that handle scheduling, billing, individual worker performance monitoring, certification authentication, and more. This allows the facility to find the help they need without having to burden their administrative teams while maintaining high levels of care that patients expect.

Find help managing your locum tenens


Diverse Medical Environments and Practices

Locum tenens physicians tend to work in a variety of medical departments so that they may find what works best for them. This, in turn, benefits the entire healthcare organization. Full-time staff tend to be fairly siloed within their specialties, while locums have myriad experiences under their belts and may therefore have new insights into how processes could improve, how certain departments may be able to collaborate more effectively, etc. 

A diverse workforce is a winning workforce; and the enhanced skill set that comes naturally with locum tenens is essential in finding key inferences when new challenges arise. Further, locums usually work with a multitude of organizations, whether public or private. This not only helps them bring best-practices to your facility, it can also help to build collaborative relationships with other healthcare organizations.


More Access to Specialized Medicine

It may be hard to find full-time experts in highly specialized areas of medicine. However, because locum tenens can be a jack-of-all-trades type of physician (or on the other hand are themselves highly specialized), it's easier to find doctors to perform or administer specialized procedures. Locum tenens thus open the talent pool from the bonds of locality and expand it to the entire nation.

This helps an organization maintain operations during staff shortages, serving rural communities, covering for a colleague on vacation or sabbatical, or in a rapid response situation.


What to Consider With Locum Tenens

While conceptually it may sound complex, locum tenens are actually fairly simple to get ahold of, particularly if you utilize a third-party partner like HWL.


1. Enlisting the Help of a Third Party

Locums agencies and other healthcare workforce solutions have quick and easy access to a broad candidate pool of locum hires. As your partners in staffing management, they can handle a spectrum of responsibilities including evaluating your facility's needs, screening, interviewing, and onboarding candidates, and managing all aspects of scheduling. HWL, for instance, handles all of this, plus contract management, on a customizable technology platform. We provide a detailed reporting suite, vast network of engaged agency partners, and industry leading process optimization tools to drive the strongest possible ROI for locum tenens delivery.

Find out more about locums management services.


2. Credentialing and Verifying

The most important part of hiring locum tenens is ensuring the worker's skill set matches the facility's needs. Whether it's a general physician or a highly specialized one, a credentialing process is critical to ensure they are capable of doing the job competently and in accordance with the organization's standards of care. While this process is usually highly tedious, such data can be easily stored and managed in a comprehensive vendor management system (VMS).


3. Billing and Payments

Earlier in this piece, we mentioned that some in the industry consider locum tenens a "necessary evil." This is because in general, the cost of locums physicians is much higher than that of a full-time one. Locums are often hired last-minute to accommodate large influxes of patients, if a physician calls in sick, or in other sudden circumstances. This is to say that last-minute replacements come with premium prices. While this can prove to be one of the larger challenges of contingent labor, the healthcare industry's reliance on it has reshaped it as a cost of doing business. 

However, that's not to say that you can't save money while utilizing locums staff. In fact, that is what HWL's entire business model is centered around. We understand the staffing challenges that organizations face, which is why our comprehensive talent management software is so beloved by clients. It allows you to access real-time market data to ensure you're not overpaying for contingent staff, in addition to an analytics dashboard that allows you to track staff performance. Additional features include:

  • Cross browser compatible with responsive design
  • Master and unit based scheduling
  • Broadcast open shifts via mobile app, VOIP, text, email
  • Staff can accept and view schedules on any device
  • Custom filters for type of shift, time of day, location, etc.
  • Tracking and management IRP staff documents and credentials
  • Online performance evaluations and tracking of average evaluation score


HWL Will Help You Manage Locum Tenens Effectively

Managing locum tenens can be a burden on your administrative teams. Between the extra paperwork, recruiting processes, credentialing, and other efforts that go into acquiring and managing contingent staff, it may have you asking if locum tenens are actually even worth it. 

HWL is here to be your partner in contingent staff management by providing an all-in-one locums management platform, staffing advisory services, MSP and VMS solutions, and more. 

To find out more about how HWL works, get in touch today!

November 10, 2023/By Karen Little
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Author: Karen Little

Karen Little joined HWL in 2019 as Director Supplier Relations, and currently serves as Vice President of Locums Account Services. Prior to HWL, Karen held successful careers in Insurance and Banking in both sales and leadership, as well as with Jackson and Coker, a physician staffing firm in 2008. During her time at Jackson and Coker, Karen held many different roles and worked in recruiting, business development and management. She was also the AVP of the MSP/VMS Division, where her team managed $50MM+ in spend annually. In her current role at HWL, Karen works with clients and agencies to ensure they receive the highest level of attention and customer service. Karen’s years in the staffing industry have made her a trusted advisor to her clients and a valued partner to locums agencies.
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