The Real Reason Emergency Departments Are Struggling in 2024

Emergency departments across the United States are under immense pressure. The growing population and increasing demand for emergency care have outpaced the implementations of advanced resources such as teletriage, electronic registration, and community paramedicine. While these technological advancements are designed to streamline patient flow and improve efficiency, they cannot fully address the critical issue of physician shortages.

The Current State of Emergency Departments

Emergency departments (ED) are using various tools to manage patient influx and improve service delivery. For example, teletriage systems help prioritize patients based on the severity of their conditions, ensuring that those in need of immediate attention receive timely care. Electronic registration processes reduce administrative burdens and the amount of staff needed for patient admission. Community paramedicine extends emergency services beyond hospital walls, providing care in patients’ homes and alleviating ED congestion.

According to recent data from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), the median time patients spent in emergency rooms was 2 hours, 40 minutes nationwide. That’s up from 2 hours, 35 minutes in 2021 (during the COVID-19 pandemic), and 2 hours, 18 minutes in 2014, for example. What does this tell us? Despite the efforts being made through Telehealth and other response and registration tools, the fundamental problem remains: a severe shortage of emergency medical physicians.

Hover to see the median time, in hours, patients spent in hospital emergency rooms

Data: Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services; 

The prolonged wait time reflects the inadequate staffing levels that hinder timely care delivery. A study published last year revealed that more than 500 emergency medical physician positions remain unfilled across the country. This gap not only strains the existing workforce but also compromises patient care quality and outcomes. The high demand for emergency physicians, coupled with insufficient supply, creates a challenging environment for healthcare facilities striving to provide optimal care.

Locum Tenens: A Strategic Response

Given the critical shortages and the limitations of technological solutions, locum tenens stands as a strategic and effective solution for emergency departments. In recent years, locum tenens has become increasingly prevalent among healthcare facilities. A recent Consilium survey of more than 15,000 healthcare administrators revealed that 66% of participants indicated they would maintain or increase their use of locum tenens. Why? Because the locum tenens business model provides:

Flexibility and Immediate Relief

Locum tenens physicians provide unparalleled flexibility, allowing healthcare organizations to respond swiftly to fluctuating demands, staff absences, and evolving healthcare needs. This adaptability is particularly crucial in emergency medicine, where patient influx can be influenced by predictable factors such as flu season or local outbreaks, as well as unexpected situations. By coordinating with the facility’s infection prevention representative, for example, healthcare administrators can better anticipate periods of increased patient volume and methodically implement locum tenens physicians. Additionally, having a locum agency in their back pocket ensures that facilities are prepared for sudden, unpredictable surges in patient numbers, enhancing both safety and efficiency in patient care.

Diverse Expertise and Quality of Care

Locum tenens physicians often possess diverse expertise from various healthcare settings, making them ideal candidates for the wide range of challenges faced by emergency departments. Their varied experience ensures high-quality care and innovative problem-solving, benefiting both patients and the permanent medical staff.

Optimized Staffing and Predictable Costs

Integrating locum tenens into staffing models allows healthcare facilities to optimize patient volume management without the financial commitment of permanent hires. By budgeting for locum tenens, facilities can predict expenses and avoid costly last-minute staffing decisions, ensuring financial stability while maintaining adequate staffing levels during peak demand periods.


The real-world positive impact of locum tenens in emergency departments is significant. Healthcare facilities that strategically incorporate locum tenens into their staffing models experience improved service continuity, reduced wait times, and enhanced patient satisfaction.

As healthcare organizations navigate the complexities of regulatory changes, technological advancements, and evolving patient needs, locum tenens stand as a pivotal tool for maintaining continuity of care and adapting to new healthcare paradigms. The ability to swiftly mobilize qualified professionals ensures that facilities can meet fluctuating demands and provide high-quality care, even during times of crisis.

Healthcare facilities seeking to explore the benefits of locum tenens should consider partnering with a reputable agency like Consilium. With the right support and strategic planning, locum tenens can provide the necessary relief and expertise to ensure emergency departments continue delivering exceptional care. Contact Consilium today to learn how we can help you meet your staffing needs and improve your emergency department’s performance.

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