How to Avoid Hospital Staffing Shortages During Cold & Flu Season

How to Avoid Hospital Staffing Shortages During Cold & Flu Season

Cold and flu season is an especially busy time for many hospitals and healthcare facilities, and those who haven’t planned ahead can too often experience shortages in care — the kind that not only inconvenience patients but that can also inflict damage on reputation and revenue and long-term viability.

“The National Institutes of Health estimates that colds and flu absences from work and school costs the economy more than $30 billion annually,” writes Donna Marbury for Medical Economics. “The pressure on medical practices to provide quick, efficient, and effective treatment is stronger than ever.”

A veritable double-edged sword, cold and flu season not only brings hospitals and facilities an extra influx of patients to deal with, it also frequently causes staff shortages when the workers in your facility get sick.

“You need to plan for it because it’s inevitable,” as a medical practice management expert tells Shelly K. Schwartz at Duke Health’s Clinical Practice Corner.

And, though Schwartz goes on to list a number of useful tips for helping alleviate cold and flu seasonal shortages without bringing on additional locums staff — cross-training staff members to perform different jobs as needed, for example — those measures aren’t always sufficient to stave off an unexpected shortage should this flu season prove to be a severe one.

“You can shuffle chairs as needed during scheduled time off, but unplanned sick days — especially during the busy cold and flu season — can throw a major wrench in the works,” she notes.

“You need to plan ahead and predict,” another staffing expert tells Schwartz. “That’s what practices that plan well do best. They don’t wait for patients to come in for their flu shots; they call them and ask them to come get the vaccination in September.”

Fighting the Cold & Flu Season with Locum Workers

Literally meaning “to hold a place” in Latin, locum tenens is the practice of staffing temporary or fill-in workers, and was originally created for just this sort of contingency — to help ensure continuity of care during periods when regular staff are unavailable (or overwhelmed).

Locum staffing has evolved significantly in the past few decades, to the point where locum tenens workers aren’t strictly physicians but also include dentists, psychologists, psychiatrists, nurse anesthetists, and advanced practitioners — that is, nurse practitioners and physician assistants — both of which can offer tremendous help in alleviating care shortages during busy times.

Though locums workers can sometimes be available with little notice, the best approach to locums staffing is to plan ahead, creating an existing partnership with a staffing partner like Staff Care to ensure in advance that the exact types of locum workers — a Level 3 EM physician, for instance, or a NP specializing in primary care — are available when and where you need them.

“Consider tapping a temp agency early in the season to identify candidates who can fill in early mornings, evenings and weekends,” Marbury writes. “Also consider temporary workers who are willing to work the days before and after holidays, if your staff members have vacation scheduled and your office is open.”

Including locum workers in your long-term staffing strategy has other advantages. Though some experts advise using locum doctors and practitioners as a last-ditch solution to a shortage, there are benefits to bringing them on before they’re needed to help prevent burnout. Indeed, the type of double-duty Schwartz describes — cross-training employees to work multiple areas, for instance — is beneficial, no doubt, but over-utilizing that solution can contribute to staff burnout, which is already a severe problem in many places.

We can help! Contact Staff Care today to discuss your locum needs with a recruitment specialist. You can also submit a staffing request to us directly using the form on this page.

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