COVID-19 'has turned the healthcare industry upside down,' survey finds
by Christopher Cheney, senior clinical care editor at HealthLeaders
The COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound impact on the healthcare sector, a recent LocumTenens.com survey shows.
The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted healthcare organizations and their employees across several dimensions, earlier research has found. For example, the American Hospital Association estimates health systems and hospitals lost $202.6 billion from March through June. And the healthcare workforce decreased 9.5% from February through April, with 1.5 million healthcare workers losing their jobs, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.
The LocumTenens.com survey was conducted in June and highlights information collected from 940 healthcare professionals in 35 medical specialties. The survey features several key data points:
- The employment status of survey respondents fell into four categories: 45% employee, 30% locum tenens or independent contractor, 13% owner or partner in independent practice, and 6% unemployed
- 64% of survey respondents who said they were unemployed reported losing their jobs due to the impact of COVID-19 on their healthcare organizations
- Professionals who had worked in the healthcare sector for five years or less had the highest rate of unemployment at 9%
- The vast majority of independent owners reported concern over the future of their physician practices: 54% were very concerned and 34% were mildly concerned
- Retired clinicians had either come out of retirement (23%) or were considering coming out of retirement (42%)
- 28% of survey respondents worked at healthcare organizations that had experienced furloughs, 18% worked at healthcare organizations that had experience furloughs and layoffs, and 8% worked at healthcare organizations that had experienced layoffs
- 71% of survey respondents said there had been at least a 25% decrease in patients receiving preventive care
- 78% of survey respondents said patients were canceling appointments due to fear of novel coronavirus infection
- 73% of survey respondents said they were concerned about newly uninsured patients
- 52% of clinicians reported experiencing increases in stress, burnout, or mental health issues
Interpreting the data
LocumTenens.com President Chris Franklin told HealthLeaders that the COVID-19 pandemic has had a dramatic impact on the clinician job market.
"The coronavirus pandemic has turned the healthcare industry upside down; and now more than ever, the job market for clinicians is in a constant state of flux. For example, an increased number of critical care and hospital medicine clinicians have been a necessary part of the response in various hotspots across the country ever since the pandemic began. Clinicians in other specialties—many associated with elective surgeries—saw a dramatic drop in demand for their services due to patients either having to delay care, whether it was due to financial concerns or loss of health insurance, or choosing to delay care out of fear of contracting the virus."
The clinician job market is rebounding, he said. "As we begin to see an uptick in elective procedures, or as procedures that were once considered elective are now becoming urgent due to a delay in care, we are seeing demand for clinicians across all specialties increase. More patients are beginning to resume in-person primary care visits, too."
Burnout was a major issue affecting clinicians well before the pandemic struck, but the pandemic has exacerbated the problem, Franklin said. "The pandemic has highlighted not only the significant work our clinicians do to care for our patients, but also the work we need to do to ensure we take care of our clinicians."
A hospitalist who participated in the LocumTenens.com survey said clinician burnout and mental health problems are a primary concern during the pandemic. "We all have a universal stress as healthcare practitioners with the rise of a pandemic. I am concerned for patients. I am concerned for myself. I am concerned for my neighbors. It will be important to incorporate stress management for our providers, including protected time off, stress outlets, and mental health counseling."
The survey shows telemedicine has expanded broadly during the pandemic, said Kevin Thill, executive vice president of LocumTenens.com.
"Almost three-quarters (74%) of respondents say their organization has increased their use of telehealth services due to COVID-19, and almost half (44%) say they have invested in new technology solutions to be able to communicate with patients remotely. The pandemic has shown clinicians and healthcare administrators the value telehealth adds to their practice, as it was the only way many practices were able to continue to care for patients at the height of the pandemic," Thill said.