Locum Tenens Hospitalists: New Study Shows How Hospitals Benefit

New research shows multiple benefits with locum hospitalist services

Internal medicine patients receiving care from locum tenens hospitalists had shorter stays and lower hospital costs without increasing readmissions or mortality, according to a study published January 2021 in Journal of General Internal Medicine.

“Medical directors often have concerns locums are not familiar with the workflow in their hospitals and don’t provide good care, so we looked into that,” said lead author Moaath K. Mustafa Ali, MD, MPH, at the University of Toledo/Promedica Toledo Hospital, Toledo, Ohio, and the Bloomberg School of Public Health, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland.

“It was totally the opposite,” Ali continued. Locum physicians “provide hospitals cost savings without an increased risk of readmission or death.”  

Learn more: What is locum tenens?

Locum tenens deliver quality care

Ali and colleagues conducted the research after finding no prospective studies comparing outcomes in patients treated by employed hospitalists and locum hospitalists. The researchers also compared results for teaching internal medicine services and nonteaching hospitalists and found shorter stays with the teaching service.

The study included 1,273 adult admissions, with a mean patient age of 61 years. Fifty-two percent were women. The study period occurred pre-pandemic, from February to April 2019, and took place at the 800-bed Promedica Toledo hospital, a tertiary facility in Ohio, serving urban and suburban communities.   

Patients treated exclusively by a locum hospitalist had a 1.2-day shorter length of stay, with an average hospital cost savings of $1,339 per patient.

The researchers suggested that one reason for the outcome is the high professional standards to which locum tenens physicians are held.

Also, Ali said, locum physicians want to leave a good impression.

“There is a lot of competition,” Ali said. “They get rated by the medical directors. They want to do a good job, so they get called back.”Because of the cost savings and shorter stays with locum tenens hospitalists, the researchers conclude that “it might be inaccurate to label locum physician care as ‘expensive.’”

Locum tenens solve issues around changes in demand

About 50,000 hospitalists practice in the United States, most commonly in internal medicine. A growing demand exists for locum tenens physicians, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, when hospitals were short staffed, Ali said.

By bringing in locums, he said, employed hospitalists do not need to see as many patients. That’s particularly important when dealing with a surge in patients. For instance, in many areas of Florida, hospital censuses increase when “snowbirds” are in state.

“Locums are efficient,” Ali said. “If you need someone, it is better to bring in a locum.” 

About 85 percent of U.S. healthcare facility managers had relied on locum tenens physicians in 2019 and 25 percent had used locum hospitalists, according to the Staff Care’s 2020 Survey of Temporary Physician Staffing Trends. Hospitalists were the second highest in demand, after primary care.

Locum tenens hospitalists can also reap benefits

If you are a physician who has thought about working locum tenens assignments. Staff Care has dozens of locum hospitalist positions available across the United States. Opportunities include working with adults or children, in large or smaller facilities, and day-shift or nocturnist positions. Some positions are “crisis response” placements.

While most positions are full-time, locum tenens physicians often can work part-time, in addition to their permanent employment, picking up some extra money to pay off medical school debt or take a nice vacation. Locum positions can help providers gain valuable experience, and full-time travel assignment include paid housing and travel expenses, among other benefits.

Employers, typically, are seeking locum tenens physicians with experience and board certification or eligibility.

The recent Journal of General Internal Medicine study affirms the good care that locum tenens hospitalists provide. Physicians working locums tenens can take pride in their care and hospitals can rest assured hiring a locum hospitalist will deliver good care to their patients.

Candidates: Find locum hospitalist jobs across the U.S.

Employers: Accelerate your hospital’s recovery from COVID-19 with new staffing solutions.

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