Allied Health Professionals Fill Temporary Gaps in Healthcare Settings

Heidi Splete

January 14, 2022

In the past 12 months, 96% of healthcare facilities reported using temporary allied healthcare professionals to supplement their existing staff, based on survey results from 204 facilities.

The Survey of Temporary Allied Healthcare Professional Staffing Trends was conducted by AMN Healthcare, a comprehensive healthcare staffing organization that assists hospitals, medical groups, government entities, and other healthcare facilities with their workforce needs.

The 2021 survey and accompanying report included data from 159 hospitals among the 204 facilities. Participants were healthcare executives and managers who responded to the survey by email during August and September 2021.

Overall, respiratory therapists were the most in-demand temporary allied healthcare professionals, and accounted for 26% of temporary health professional staffing, according to the survey. The high demand is likely driven by COVID-19, and is likely to remain high, as respiratory therapists play a key role in treating COVID-19 patients.

"Patients recovering from COVID-19 may experience long-term respiratory problems, which could contribute to a continued high demand for respiratory therapists for the foreseeable future," according to the survey report.

Other temporary allied health professionals are involved in COVID-19 care. Overall, more than half (53%) of the respondents said that temporary allied healthcare professionals have been "moderately to extremely" involved in the treatment of COVID-19 patients; the other 47% responded "slightly involved" or "not at all involved." Laboratory technologists and radiologic technologists accounted for 25% and 21%, respectively, of temporary allied healthcare professionals employed in the past year, according to the survey.

Filling Staff Gaps and Battling Burnout

Seventy-three percent of healthcare facilities said they employ temporary allied healthcare professionals to fill gaps in staffing while seeking permanent staff, and 71% of respondents reported using these temporary workers to fill gaps caused by staff turnover. This rate likely reflects the increased turnover rates in many facilities as a result of the ongoing pandemic, and 75% of hospitals and other healthcare facilities said they are currently seeking temporary allied healthcare professionals, according to the findings.

Aside from respiratory therapists, other in-demand specialties include laboratory technologists, radiologic technologists, physical therapists, occupational therapists, and speech pathologists. "Laboratory technologists have been particularly active throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, though demand for their services preceded the pandemic and is likely to outlast it," according to the report.

"The widespread use of temporary allied healthcare professionals signals an emerging shortage of these workers," Robin Johnson, divisional president with AMN Healthcare, said in a press release announcing the results. "The same pattern of labor shortages prevalent in nursing and medicine now are affecting the allied healthcare professions."

Staff burnout has become an increasing concern, and 73% of respondents cited prevention of burnout as a benefit of using temporary allied healthcare professionals. Although physician burnout was an issue and a reason for the use of temporary allied health professionals prior to the pandemic, the high rate reflects the impact of COVID-19 on healthcare professionals' mental health and well-being, according to the survey report. In addition, 66% of respondents said that use of temporary allied healthcare professionals allows for treatment continuity of patients. 

Temporary Workers Are Valued and Accepted

Nearly all (97%) of the survey respondents rated the skill levels of their temporary allied healthcare professionals as ranging from "average to excellent," two thirds (65%) rated them as "good to excellent," and only 3% rated them as "poor or terrible." Respondents reported that 94% of temporary allied healthcare professionals were accepted by their managers, 83% were accepted by their co-workers, and 82% were accepted by patients. Most (75%) of the survey respondents rated temporary allied healthcare professionals either "as productive" or "more productive" than their permanent staff.

Cost remains the top barrier to using temporary allied healthcare workers, according to the survey. A total of 56% of the respondents cited cost as a barrier; other barriers included the learning curve and training needed for equipment and procedures (30%), licensing issues (27%), lack of familiarity with a department or practice (25%) and credentialling issues (24%).

Data from the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics show that 589,000 healthcare workers quit their jobs last September — representing a record 35% voluntary attrition rate, according to the AMN Healthcare press release. The report concluded that that the need for temporary allied healthcare professionals in the US is likely to continue, driven by the need for more healthcare professionals of all types to support the physical/mental effects of COVID-19; the predicted overall healthcare professional shortages; and the aging population.

The survey report is available online at the AMN Healthcare website.

AMN Healthcare. Survey of Temporary Allied Healthcare Professional Staffing Trends. Published online December 13, 2021. Survey of Temporary Allied Healthcare Professional Staffing Trends

Heidi Splete is a freelance medical journalist with 20 years of experience.

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