New year predictions abound in any industry, but the trends and expectations taking shape over the next 12 months in the world of healthcare staffing have far-reaching implications for just about everyone, from providers to patients. Consilium Staffing experts Matthew Baade, Executive Vice President | Partner; Amy Gentile, Divisional Vice President for Behavioral Health | Partner; and John Moberly, Divisional Vice President for Anesthesiology | Partner, share their thoughts about what we can expect for healthcare staffing in 2022.
What overarching trend do you anticipate for this year?
MB: The physician shortage is going to be exacerbated. The last two years were a perfect storm of not having enough doctors to cover demand, and then non-stop challenging conditions for those who were working. Today, some providers are hanging on out of a sense of duty to see the pandemic through to the end. Once they get to a certain point, I think most will want to take time off, many will go on an extended break, and some may walk away altogether. This reality is going to make locums tenens that much more important.
JM: COVID-19 mandates for healthcare workers will prompt the need for more locum tenens providers. Because the vaccine is a requirement for many hospitals and healthcare systems, we’re seeing permanent staff get furloughed. But the healthcare industry is already short-staffed, and when the vaccine is a mandate for employment, having fewer providers can be tough on the community. We’re helping those hospitals and healthcare systems by providing vaccinated locum tenens physicians who can step in immediately.
AG: I second John’s point. Locums providers will be needed more than ever because there’s a decrease in provider supply and an increase in demand for physicians as a result of the vaccine mandates. We saw this happen in New York last November (2021). Also, in the behavioral health practice, there are many full-time psychiatrists who aren’t willing to get vaccinated. Many of the jobs we fill with locums psychiatrists are for jobs where vaccination is required.
How will telehealth evolve in 2022— and will staffing be impacted?
AG: I predict greater acceptance and more widespread use of telehealth — as long as insurance companies will continue to pay for those visits. In behavioral health, it’s now acceptable to do visits via video. Before the pandemic, providers had to meet all of these expensive requirements to do telehealth visits and be able to bill for it. Now you can have a computer, Zoom and be able to bill for it.
MB: I agree with Amy’s point, but I also believe that people really want to get back to normal. The physician-patient relationship is an intimate relationship, and telehealth can detract from that. It’s not that you can’t conduct some visits via telemedicine, but for healthcare as a whole, I think telemedicine taking over is more hype than reality. The utilization of telemedicine in 2022 will be greater than pre-COVID, but I don’t think it’ll be a huge trend in the coming year.
Which practice areas will have a ramped-up demand for locum tenens professionals?
MB: At the height of the pandemic in 2020, the nation cut elective surgeries which meant patients went without care and hospitals lost a lot of money. Even today, patients and hospitals are catching up on lost time and we’ll continue to see this throughout 2022. With that, surgical specialties and anesthesia providers will still be in huge demand. At our firm, the need for anesthesiologists and certified registered nurse anesthesiologists is huge —we almost can’t keep up and I don’t see that slowing down this year. Also, because the most recent COVID-19 variants are proving to be less severe in terms of the number of individuals needing hospitalization, we’ll continue to see an increase in locums for primary care and urgent care settings.
Tangentially, I think the need for locums professionals for pulmonary critical care and emergency care will pull back a little bit, with the caveat that it could change if there’s a new COVID variant that causes more severe disease.
JM: For the population that was holding off on elective surgeries, the passing of time has made realities shift, and many of those people are re-addressing their health needs. As such, many of those elective procedures aren’t elective anymore — many have become more acute. So, now many operating rooms and surgical centers are backed up, and these are the areas where our firm is seeing the greatest demand for locums professionals.
In addition, a growing part of the patient population is feeling more comfortable with outpatient care clinics because they’ve been putting off their preventative medicine. Based on who we’re contracted with, that’s where were seeing a much higher increase for locum tenens.
What else will recruiters experience in 2022?
JM: They’ll be busy, that’s for sure. From recruiters who are getting into this market now for the first time to those who’ve weathered the storm over the past two years, they’ll all see the importance of building their relationships with physicians and providers. Because of what we’ve been through — isolation, quarantine, caseloads — I look at 2022 as a real opportunity to find a common good and build on it. There’s enough noise out there. Recruiters are wise to prioritize connections. If they do, it’ll be a rewarding year. We expect to see a huge spike in demand for locums professionals, and when that happens, those who’ve built their relationships and gone that extra level will be rewarded for it.
AG:More hospitals and facilities are using locums across the board, and I definitely think there will be an increase in demand for behavioral health professionals. Primary care is also growing strongly, particularly because there are a lot of COVID testing and vaccination sites that need staff, whether it’s nurse practitioners or internal medicine physicians.
MB: The physician market is going to become increasingly competitive, and with this, pay rates for providers will be a factor. Even so, I believe the personal relationship is going to become even more important. We’ve been through so much stress over the last few years and there’s been such a huge strain on personal relationships due to social distancing, and quarantines, and whatnot, so locums providers are going to be even more drawn to the recruiters with whom they have relationships. The personal touch that a good staffing company can provide will be even more important. We have competitors who market the other way, saying you don’t have to use a recruiter, and you can do everything online. But I think, for recruiters, personal touches and relationships will be more important in 2022 than they have ever been.