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Perspectives on the locum tenens industry

Taking Time to Find the Right Locum Tenens Physician for Your Facility Will Pay Dividends

By Tim Hand – President & CEO, Interim Physicians

Hiring a licensed, qualified locum tenens physician in almost any specialty is relatively easy. Pick up the phone and tell an agency that you need an orthopedic surgeon for four weeks in January, and chances are good that your request will be filled without a problem.

But let’s say you’ve given your needs a good deal of thought and discussed the criteria for what you want with the people your temporary doctor will be working with.

In doing so, you conclude that you want an orthopedic surgeon who has at least 15 years of experience, can supervise multiple physician assistants, has a reputation for being pleasant to work with, and is comfortable taking call at an inner-city ER. That order might take a little longer to fill, but the wait will be worth it and you’ll be rewarded for your thoroughness and thoughtfulness.

At the risk of stating the obvious, the farther ahead you plan for locum tenens needs, the better your chances of getting someone who is well matched for your organization. If your only general surgeon is suddenly laid up in bed for eight weeks after tumbling off his motorcycle and you need to have a temporary replacement standing in the operating room a week from Monday, of course you won’t have the luxury of advance planning.

But in many situations, such as securing coverage for a doctor who will be off for a six-week maternity leave or a six-month sabbatical, investing the time to think carefully about the type of physician you want to bring in will pay dividends in the form of both patient and staff satisfaction.

Talk to Front Line Staff

The nursing and other clinical staff at your facility can provide a wealth of information about the qualifications and characteristics you should look for in a locum tenens physician, as well as offer insight about why certain types of doctors fit in and work well with staff and patients, and others do not. Tap this valuable resource when you’re getting ready to bring in a temporary physician, and also on the heels of each locums completing an assignment so that you have data in the bank for future reference.

If you hear, “She was great, everyone loved her, bring her back any time,” try to find out what made that doctor such a good match. Was it the way she communicated with staff, her manner with patients and families, her superior clinical skills? Likewise, should you hear, “If we never see him again it will be too soon,” ask what went wrong. Was he unfriendly, unhelpful, unskilled, or just plain unlikable? Getting specifics from front-line staff will not only help you hire the best locum tenens physicians, but it also demonstrates to employees that you’re taking the process and their opinions seriously.

Make a Clear and Detailed Request

At Interim Physicians, we strive get as much information as possible from a facility before we begin the process of determining which candidates are best suited for a given opening. The more detail we have about what a client needs and wants, the better job we can do in meeting those expectations. Beyond the basic facts, what kind of doctor is needed when/if clients shed light on some of the more nuanced aspects of their situation, it increases our odds of identifying a physician who will not only provide quality patient care, but who will also fit in. Here are some key points to, if possible, communicate when requesting locum tenens coverage through an agency.

Culture of the organization. Make it clear whether your hospital or clinic tends toward formality or is quite casual. In some organizations, relaxed dress and being on a first name basis with physicians is the norm, while in other facilities doctors still wear ties to work and staff would not dream of using a physician’s first name outside of a social setting. It’s also helpful for us to know how members of your medical staff interact with one another. Do they consider themselves exclusively medical colleagues, or are they friends outside of work? Do they generally get along and support one another, or should a locum tenens doctor be prepared to encounter a degree of medical staff politics and rancor?

Patient population, volume, and specialty coverage. When we understand what patient acuity is like at a facility, how busy a locum tenens physician is likely to be on a daily basis, and what is available in the way of specialty coverage, it helps us place candidates who are prepared to provide quality care with a high level of confidence. One physician, for example, might easily care for 30 patients a day in an out-patient setting, whereas another would be overwhelmed seeing two-thirds that number. Or, doctors who are used to practicing primarily in metropolitan areas where they have immediate access to specialists across all medical fields may not be comfortable working where the nearest cardiologist or neurologist is 150 miles down the interstate.

Flavor of the community. If a locum tenens physician will be working at a facility for more than a few weeks, it’s important for them to understand what kind of community they’re temporarily moving into. Is your area rich with outdoor activities? Are there cultural events or unique festivals happening in your town most weekends that a doctor might enjoy? Is your community extremely liberal or conservative? Are the locals generally accepting of people from other cultures? All of these details can be useful to a recruiter who is looking to place the candidate that will meet your needs and who will feel comfortable in your community during his or her off hours.

A Team Effort

We like to think of ourselves as part of your team, at least temporarily, when it comes to placing locum tenens doctors. To that end, when you work through Interim Physicians for your short-term physician staffing needs, you can expect to receive an evaluation survey at the conclusion of each placement as part of our Advancing Quality Care service. This brief survey allows us to gather information on how each doctor performs in the areas of quality of care, productivity, and customer service. When hospital and clinic executives in charge of recruiting and your Interim Physicians’ representatives work together for the benefit of both organizations, and for the good of the doctors we place and the patients they care for, we all come out ahead.

Tim Hand is the Chief Executive Officer of Interim Physicians and is a noted healthcare staffing thought leader. He has led three companies to Inc. 500 status over 30 years.