Hospitals and healthcare centers often rely on contract labor, like traveling nurses, to fill their staffing needs. However, since the pandemic, the costs associated with hiring these contract nurses have risen sharply. In January 2022, contract travel nurses made up 23% of all nurse hours and nearly 40% of nursing labor costs.
The American Hospital Association reports that the hourly rates hospitals pay staffing agencies for travel nurses jumped by 213% in January 2022 compared to pre-pandemic levels in January 2019.
This trend doesn't just affect hospital budgets. Medical Staff Services Departments (MSSD) are swamped with the task of credentialing these nurses to ensure they're ready to work. But these departments are also facing their own staffing and resource challenges.
What is contract nurse credentialing?
Credentialing is the process of checking a nurse's background. It involves verifying their licenses, education, references, certifications, and more. Credentialing is necessary before privileging, which evaluates a nurse's experiences and current skills to confirm they're qualified for their role in a hospital setting. Thus, the terms 'credentialing' and 'privileging' are often used together.
Each state has its own rules for nursing licenses and practice, and the tasks that nurses perform vary. As a result, how they are credentialed or privileged also differs. For instance, a Certified Nurse (CN) generally cares for patients under the supervision of Registered Nurses (RNs), while RNs provide more advanced care and coordinate with doctors. Every state has a regulatory board that licenses nurses.
The Greeley Company points out that certain privileging standards must be met for all nurses, whether they are employees or contractors. This means they must be credentialed and privileged just like hospital-employed physicians.
The American Nurses Association (ANA) represents the interests of four million registered nurses in the U.S. The American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC), part of the ANA, offers renowned credentialing programs that certify nurses in various specialty areas
Who credentials contract nurses?
Usually, the contract company or locum tenens agency working with a healthcare system takes care of credentialing nurses. Some of these companies have accreditation, similar to hospitals. However, it's a widely recommended practice for hospitals to independently credential contract nurses for each new assignment. This is because every hospital has its unique requirements.
For instance, a staffing agency might not be aware of a specific hospital's bylaws, medical staff policies, or what the hospital considers a warning sign during the primary source verification process. Each hospital might have different rules about which types of nurses need privileges and the specific tasks a contract nurse is allowed to perform.
It’s important to remember that the hospital is ultimately responsible for the actions of any nurse working within its system. If contract nurses are not thoroughly vetted through credentialing, hospitals face significant risks. This can lead to administrative challenges, ensuring each contract nurse meets the hospital's credentialing standards. In extreme cases, if a contract nurse causes harm or a patient's death, the hospital could be held liable for negligent credentialing.
Nurse credentialing can get complicated quickly
With the rise of nurse contracting companies, The Joint Commission introduced a certification program to help hospitals identify staffing services that provide qualified nursing contractors. The National Committee for Quality Assurance (NCQA) also offers certification, helping organizations implement best practices for verifying practitioner credentials.
Yet, meeting each facility's unique needs can be challenging due to variations in procedures and quality standards. This necessitates a high level of standardization in credentialing practices at each medical facility or hospital. Here are some key points about contract nurses:
- Educational Background
About 47% of travel nurses hold a bachelor’s degree, 38% an associate’s degree, 7% a master’s degree, and 5% a diploma. This shows that travel nurses have diverse educational backgrounds and can take short-term contracts without needing extensive years of study.
- Employment Duration
Over half of contract nurses stay in a position for less than a year, and 25% for one to two years. Most work on 13-week contracts and often move between roles with breaks in between.
- Multiple State Licenses
Many contract nurses are licensed in several states at once, which can complicate the credentialing process and increase the verification burden on hospitals and medical facilities.
The future of contract nurse credentialing
For healthcare facilities that can manage the costs of temporary nursing labor, this approach offers much-needed flexibility and customization during challenging times. It also helps maintain optimal nurse-to-patient ratios, which boosts nurse morale, enhances safety, and promotes high-quality patient care. Recognizing these advantages, many facilities are now collaborating with third-party services to manage the complexities of nurse credentialing.
Services like Credsy are revolutionizing nurse credentialing. They handle the intricate process of obtaining, verifying, and evaluating nurses' qualifications. By thoroughly reviewing and documenting proof of current licensure, education, training, and other credentials, these services relieve the administrative burden from busy HR departments. They reduce potential risks and liabilities and make the staffing process more efficient. If your healthcare organization is looking for a cost-effective way to enjoy the benefits of additional staffing while minimizing safety liabilities and risks, turning to a third-party nurse credentialing service could be the ideal solution.
Nurse credentialing is the process of verifying a nurse’s qualifications, including their education, training, licensure, and any other relevant credentials. It's crucial because it ensures that nurses are qualified and competent to provide safe and effective patient care. This process is especially important for contract nurses who may move between different healthcare facilities, each with its own set of requirements and standards.