Looking for Those Elusive Per Diems

Are you prepared to arrange short-term coverage when your staff is away on vacation, sick, or family leave? In a pinch, if your staff is handling reduced capacity, you may be able to double-up. But what about those instances when that's not possible, or you expect to be short-handed for more than a couple of days?

Per diem is the answer. Per diem workers are hired "by the day." Typically you simply pay a flat rate, without having to worry about withholding taxes as you do with your own employees. Per diem workers offer you a quick fix to a staffing problem. But finding per diem therapists that fit your practice can be difficult unless you've done your homework. Here are 5 steps to finding PTs who can help out on a per diem basis.

Step 1. Find a Recruiter You Can Count On in a Pinch

Whether or not you want to use an agency, talking with a recruiter is necessary to establish a baseline of what's out there. Interview the recruiting agencies that work with physical therapists and ask about the per diem services they provide and the associated fees. (Many of these agencies place ads in the various PT journals.)

You may be shocked by the per diem rates, but this is to be expected when looking for non-permanent workers. Discuss such issues as current availability in the market, how quickly the agency could find a candidate with the expertise you need, and the minimum contract time (if any).

Step 2. Generate a List of Therapists

The best way to build a list of available per diem therapists is by word of mouth. Talk with other professionals and ask them who they know is doing per diem work. When you talk with these referrals, ask about their availability and if they know any other therapists who work per diem.

Another way to build a list is to call your state licensing board and purchase a list of state-registered PTs. Getting the list in electronic format will save you some keystrokes later when you are putting your list on the computer.

Once you receive the list, make the necessary changes so that it is accessible from your favorite word processing application. (Make sure the word processor you are using can do mail merge.) Prepare and send out a mail merge letter that indicates that you are interested in talking with PTs who can work per diem.

Interview those candidates who sound like a good fit, just like you would if you were looking for a full-time person. Check references and the candidate's willingness to work the hours or days you need covered.

By building your own list of therapists instead of going through an agency, you avoid the middleman and reduce the overall expense. (Often, it's not only a better deal for you, but also for the PT.) You also get more familiar with other therapists in your area. By talking directly with potential candiates, not only will you find PTs willing to do per diem work, but also those who may be interested in part-time work (for future reference). In any case, keep in mind that building a list requires work and time. If you don't have time, simply deal with your favorite recruiting agency.

Step 3. Plan in Advance

For those times that you know staff members will be out of the facility, plan well in advance to secure the per diem help you will need. Schedule vacations as early as possible to leave sufficient time to find available coverage.

For extended periods, such as family leave, you may need assistance from more than one per diem PT or you may need to bring on a part-time PT.

Step 4. Get a Commitment

If a per diem PT can provide coverage during the time period in question, get a commitment. Follow up your phone call or meeting with a letter or agreement indicating your expectations. That way there will be no confusion when the day comes and you are expecting the per diem PT to arrive.

Step 5. Always Have a Backup Plan

You should be prepared for those times when a disaster happens. Whether it is an unexpected situation with a staff member being out of the facility without previous notice (such as a family emergency), or a per diem candidate having to back out of a commitment, you need to be ready. If your list is "deep", you can simply contact other candidates in your list.

As a last resort, ask your recruiter to deliver a candidate. This is another reason to have an established relationship with an agency.

Do You Have Questions? Send us email.


Copyright 1999, 2000, 2001 Leer Technical Communications