Use of Locum Tenens Up

Up 22% in One Year

Hospitals and healthcare facilities have increased their use of temporary physicians significantly over last year, a new survey shows. Bonnie Britton, senior VP of Staff Care, an Irving, TX-based provider of temporary healthcare clinicians, says her firm's study results show 90% of healthcare organizations using locum tenens providers.

That's a 22% increase over the previous year, when use of locum tenens doctors was at 73.6%.

"To have 9 out 10 organizations using locum tenens—that's incredible," says Britton. "We've been doing this survey for 11 years, and we've never had these results before."

Britton attributes the growth, in part, to a "constrained" supply of physicians, and that supply is expected to continue to decline. The Association of American Medical Colleges estimates the physician shortage will be 131,000 by 2025, though there are already federally designated health professional shortage areas (HPSAs) across the country.

As of January, the federal Health Resources and Services Administration reported 6,000 primary care HPSAs and nearly 4,000 mental health HPSAs. These two categories of providers are the same ones that hospitals use locum tenens for the most.

To accommodate its need for more PCPs, Britton says healthcare organizations are increasingly turning to nurse practitioners. Last year's survey showed organizations' use of NPs at 7.8%; this year that jumped to 15.38%—a 97% increase. NPs are viewed by many to be an answer to physician shortages, but others, such as the American Academy of Family Practitioners, believe improving reimbursement is key to slowing down the looming doc shortage

A Financial and Professional Boost 

The profile of a locum tenens physician may be surprising. It's not the newly minted doctor who isn't sure where to put down roots. Instead, Britton says her research shows that half of all locum tenens physicians are mid-career professionals.

"We see that 90% of locum tenens physicians have 11 or more years of experience; 70% have more than 20 years of experience," she says.

Samuel Williams, MD, a general surgeon who retired from Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital in 2001 is an example of the latter. He's been practicing as a locum tenens provider for hospitals for five years.

"It's a boost, both financially and professionally," he told me while on his way to vacation with his family—something Britton points out as a perk of being a locum tenens doctor, particularly now because more physicians are looking for a work life balance rather than 100-hour work weeks.

"Anecdotally, locum tenens physicians are driven by three key factors: flexibility; travel; no office politics," says Britton.

Williams represents a smaller proportion of the type of provider hospitals hire temporarily (general surgery), but Williams says over the years he's noticed more turnover at rural hospitals.

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