Trauma call coverage is not always easy to come by, especially at Level III and IV 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 quite a few 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) for 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 is absolutely required
- Trauma CME – Recent changes in CME requirements by the American College of Surgeons have nearly eliminated this need. However, do you want a surgeon who does not keep up with trauma education on your call panel? If you allow this, prepare yourself for some interesting performance improvement issues. Make sure that all locums meet some basic requirement for CME or internal education program (IEP) before they start
- Dissemination of committee proceedings – Make sure that this is well-documented. These surgeons must attend at least 50% of your required committee meetings. If they can’t make it, they must be aware of all items discussed, particularly if it involves their care. Use teleconferencing, or at least send them a (confidential) copy of the minutes.
- 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 for some centers. They 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. And with the adoption of the new Resource Document (Orange Book), it’s even harder to use them. If you must, 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).