Locum tenens bridging gaps in care on the frontlines

April 24, 2020

How physicians are directly or virtually assisting the battle against COVID-19.

In response to the COVID-19 crisis, healthcare organizations across the country are beginning to onboard emergency response teams comprised of locum tenens clinicians. Translated from Latin, locum tenens means “to hold the place of; to substitute for.” Traditionally, locum tenens staffing is a solution for healthcare organizations needing to fill in for physicians or advanced practitioners who are on vacation or a leave of absence. And physicians and advanced practitioners working locum tenens regularly step in to increase access to care for patients living in rural areas facing a shortage, or even an entire lack, of specialists. However, the COVID-19 pandemic is quickly changing the way healthcare organizations utilize locum tenens staffing solutions, and legislative changes are redefining our understanding of where the frontline of care is drawn. 

While dramatic daily increases in the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 can be attributed in part to increased testing, it also speaks to how transmissible the disease is. News of the aggressive increase in cases every day is a testament to the strain the disease is taking on patients and the healthcare systems responsible for their care. Emergency departments across the country have been overburdened long before this disease found its footing on United States soil, but in the coming weeks and months, our healthcare systems will be tested in ways that will affect everyone. 

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Legislators have responded with changes to the rules regarding licensing and telehealth to increase access to care for patients, and locum tenens clinicians are quickly stepping into the space these changes have opened for them. Out-of-state licensing requirements have temporarily been waived for treating COVID-19 patients. Even in a time when it’s not recommended to fly, it is, in a way, easier than ever for these physicians and advanced practitioners to cross state lines to provide care. 

Just as significant are the changes to telehealth laws. Amid ominously looming clinician shortages, former healthcare workers who have either moved on to different professions or retired altogether have volunteered or been asked to stand on the frontlines to treat patients who have COVID-19. Telemedicine is a way for retired physicians and advanced practitioners to make a difference during this time of crisis. With HIPAA regulations relaxed, patients are being highly encouraged to take advantage of telehealth services from the comfort of their own homes when their conditions don’t warrant emergency care. Flexibility and the ability to rapidly adapt to change are characteristics successful locum tenens clinicians possess, and the way we’ve seen retired healthcare workers react to recent changes in telemedicine law is a testament to that.

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For many retired clinicians, locum tenens work is nothing new, but locum tenens work in response to a global crisis, especially one that could significantly impact their own wellbeing, is. Before the pandemic, many healthcare workers chose to continue working locum tenens after retirement because they missed providing care to patients. Some chose it to supplement income. Others used locum tenens work to travel and see the country. But right now, because of this pandemic, and thanks to recent legislative changes, we’re seeing retired clinicians choose to work locum tenens for reasons and in ways we haven’t experienced before. 

Legislative changes have given us tools to help reduce the impact of COVID-19, and locum tenens clinicians’ ability to adapt and react to these changes during this time of crisis will be critical to our ability to combat this pandemic. Strategically utilizing a locum tenens staffing model by bringing in more providers from out of state or via telemedicine will help healthcare organizations ensure they have adequate resources as they treat an unprecedented influx of patients.

Carolyn Buonomo of LocumTenens.com is a member of the National Association of Locum Tenens Organizations®(NALTO®) marketing committee. NALTO® is the only professional association of temporary physician staffing firms committed to a code of ethics and to maintaining the highest industry standards.