Prior to COVID-19, emergency departments often faced challenges related to high patient volumes and overcrowding. During the pandemic, elective procedures were canceled, and as a result, hospital revenue was impacted. Patient ED visits declined mainly because people stayed home and avoided the emergency department to avoid contracting COVID-19. Many EDs had to reduce physicians' hours by 83% during the pandemic to trim costs.

It is estimated that hospitals and health systems lost $200 billion in the second quarter of 2020. This equates to an average of $50 billion in losses per month. 2021 marked the first year that emergency medicine residents faced challenges when looking for employment post-residency.

Today, we see a very different story in the emergency medicine sector. Many emergency departments are back to feeling overwhelmed with patients and overcrowding. The surge in patient volumes, combined with healthcare personnel shortages, has caused increased wait times and strain on resources. As a result, many have had to limit services and adjust hours due to staffing shortages.

The Emergency Medicine Physician Shortage

Emergency Medicine employment is projected to increase 3% from 2022-2032. However, the average age of an employed emergency medicine physician is 48.

In the 2023 Match, emergency medicine residency programs saw a significant decrease in new residents, with 555 unmatched positions. This number of unfilled residency positions increased by 253% (336 people) from 2022 to 2023. For decades, emergency medicine was the top-pick residency for graduating medical students. Many relate the change in popularity to medical students being concerned about the future of the emergency medicine job market due to COVID-19.

The topic of physician burnout and suicide has been overtaking headlines in emergency medicine since the COVID-19 pandemic. Emergency medicine nurses and physicians have been transparent in their struggles with the tragedies and violence experienced through the pandemic. In a 2023 survey,42% of emergency medicine physicians said they were burned out. This has made the residency less attractive for some medical students.

The growth of emergency medicine jobs is projected to increase. However, the number of residents has decreased significantly since 2021. In summary, the job outlook for emergency medicine is growing, but the number of residents is decreasing.

The Shifting Workforce

Emergency departments are responding to staffing gaps and patient needs by contracting with locum tenens agencies. Emergency medicine locums help ensure emergency departments have the necessary resources to provide patients with high-quality care.

Emergency medicine locum tenens physicians and advanced practitioners support service levels during recruitment efforts. They also help to fill short-term vacancies, which can maximize ED efficiency. Leveraging locum tenens is a common practice in hospitals. It is especially prevalent in rural and remote areas where recruiting and retaining emergency medicine physicians may be more difficult.

Here are a few benefits of utilizing emergency medicine locum tenens physicians and advanced practitioners:

  1. Quality coverage: Inadequate staffing increases physician and staff workloads. Emergency medicine locum tenens physicians and advanced practitioners can help prevent gaps in care that may be caused by staff absences. In addition, locum tenens have the experience and skills needed to handle emergency medicine cases and can be employed for a short-term duration when required.
  2. Safeguarding morale: When physicians are overworked, staff morale tends to decrease. Demand for care can be high during flu season or peak vacation times. Bringing in emergency medicine locums can help manage the workload and relieve stress on staff. This can help maintain morale during periods of high patient volumes.
  3. Offering flexibility: Emergency medicine locums cover a variety of situations, such as sudden increases in patient volume, unexpected staff absences, or extended leaves. Flexibility helps maximize efficiency without sacrificing quality care, which benefits health systems.
  4. Saving money: Locum tenens physicians and advanced practitioners are paid an hourly or daily rate. Therefore, working with a locum tenens agency to help fill temporary gaps, rather than hiring permanent staff, can be a cost-effective solution to help regain unclaimed emergency department revenue.
  5. Improving access: Locum tenens help improve access to care by providing services that might not otherwise be available. Leveraging emergency medicine locums can also ease overcrowding in the emergency department, which reduces patient wait times and helps ensure prompt care delivery.

The projected growth in emergency medicine employment, coupled with the decreasing number of residents, raises concerns for the future. Addressing burnout among emergency medicine physicians and advanced practitioners is crucial. Leveraging the flexibility and expertise of locum tenens can help with staffing gaps, maintaining morale, and improving access to care. It can also help deliver high-quality emergency services in a cost-effective manner.

Learn more about how Medicus Healthcare Solutions can help your emergency department increase efficiency, capture unclaimed revenue, and adapt to changing patient volumes.