Trauma call coverage is not always easy to come by, especially at lower level trauma centers and in rural areas. Many centers come to rely on locum tenens surgeons to fill gaps in their call schedules. Unfortunately, this can create some headaches.
There is currently no trauma literature on this topic. Other disciplines, most recently pediatric surgery, have some published suggestions (I hesitate to call them guidelines) on requirements and expectations based on the ACGME core competencies.
Here are some of the nuances that any trauma program needs to recognize if the use of locum tenens surgeons is being considered:
- Board certification – This is a basic tenet of trauma center verification and should be absolutely required
- Trauma CME – Make sure that all locums meet the CME or internal education program (IEP) requirement before they start
- Core vs non-core surgeon – Locums are best designated a non-core surgeon so they are not required to attend multidisciplinary PI committee meetings (MDPI)
- Dissemination of committee proceedings – Make sure that this is well-documented. Since these surgeons are not required to attend MDPI if they are non-core, they must be aware of all items discussed, particularly if it involves their care
- Responsibility for quality issues – This is the most troubling aspect of using locums. It’s tough to hold one of these surgeons responsible for issues arising from their care if they have left and are never coming back. Make sure there is a mechanism to send feedback about their care even after they are gone for good. And document it well!
Bottom line: In my opinion, the use of locum tenens to cover trauma call gaps is a necessary evil. It should only be used until a more stable coverage pool is available. The management of quality issues in particular is much more difficult when using roving surgeons. If you must use them, use them wisely and only briefly.
Reference: Proposed standards for use of locum tenens coverage in pediatric surgery practices. J Pediatric Surg 48:700-703, 2013 (letter).