Rural doctor recruitment has rarely been an easy task in the United States, and now, as a new Staff Care white paper points out, the challenges are greater than ever. Thanks to a number of factors — like the 2013 budget sequestration that Medicare payments by two percent and the reductions in payments included in the Affordable Care Act (ACA) — rural hospitals are facing increased financial duress, with more than 200 currently at risk of closing.
"Just like professional sports teams, opera companies and gourmet restaurants, physicians tend to be located more frequently in large urban centers than they do in smaller, rural communities," the white paper authors write, adding that there are now more than 6,080 health care professional shortage areas (HPSAs) for primary care in the United States, or "about double the number identified by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) 15 years ago."
More than 65 million people live in a primary care HPSA, and 67 percent of HPSAs are in rural areas, the authors add. "The ratio of primary care providers to patients in these areas is less than one per 3,000. HRSA projects it would take 17,000 additional primary care clinicians to achieve a ratio of one primary care doctor per 3,000 patients in the nation’s 6000-plus HPSAs."
How can rural hospitals and healthcare facilities cope with these mounting challenges, and ensure that their rural doctor staffing plans remain viable? There's no magic-bullet solution, but the experts at Staff Care, pooling their decades of combined physician staffing acumen, have proposed a series of solutions in the new white paper.
Quality of Care Tops List of Rural Physician Recruitment Challenges
"The primary impact a lack of physicians has in rural areas is on quality of care," the authors note. "Lack of access to physicians can mean delays in getting care, poor continuity of care, lack of specialty services, lack of patient education, and related problems."
Those are serious issues, requiring serious — and innovative — solutions. "Rural healthcare facilities can do nothing about the fact that they may be in remote areas," the authors note. But what rural healthcare facilities can control "to a significant extent is the quality of practice they offer physicians. Since physicians will be spending most of their time in the practice, and derive their professional satisfaction from it, it is imperative that the practice be as appealing as possible."
"Due to the transformational changes taking place in healthcare today, many physicians are looking for a place where the “grass is greener,” so it is particularly important to offer a practice opportunity that stands out from others that physician candidates may be seeking."
To better attract quality rural doctors who may be inclined to work in urban areas, our experts recommend that rural facilities emphasize their inherent advantages, which include:
- Flexibility. "Part-time schedules and other flexible practice options are becoming more important to physicians than most others factors, including compensation. Schedule flexibility may be difficult to achieve in rural areas, but physicians should be given as much scheduling latitude as possible, and this may include the use of locum tenens physicians."
- Competitive compensation. "Rural facilities often can demonstrate that the need in their area for the physician is high, competition limited, and the financial potential relatively high ... Additional compensation features such as educational loan forgiveness and housing allowance also can be attractive."
- Freedom from bureaucracy. "The promise of autonomy can be a true ace in the hole" for facilities seeking rural doctors. Because they're smaller than urban medical centers, "communication between all stakeholders, including administration, is easier for physicians than in large bureaucratic institutions."
- Urgency & efficiency. "Unhampered by the bureaucratic decision making and process turnaround structures of larger organizations, rural facilities can be more nimble and responsive to candidate requests for information and decisions."
On top of these natural advantages, facilities seeking rural doctors are also encouraged to leverage other tools to ensure optimum staffing, including using the Internet to find candidates, networking with local clinicians and their colleagues, and embracing locum tenens staffing solutions to fill important clinical roles.
The white paper proposes many other solutions for rural doctor recruitment; you can download it here. And if you're interested in locum tenens solutions for your rural doctor staffing needs, we invite you to submit a staffing request here, or contact a Staff Care representative here.