Report: U.S. Physician Shortage Contributing to Increase in Active Locum Doctors

Report: U.S. Physician Shortage Contributing to Increase in Active Locum Doctors

Healthcare Dive, an industry news source focusing on healthcare and health IT news, recently published a story highlighting how locum tenens physicians can be leveraged by healthcare providers to help cope with difficulties presented by the ongoing U.S. physician shortage.

The piece, written by Nina Flanagan, highlights the opinions of locum industry leaders, including Staff Care President Sean Ebner.

“We see more physicians choosing [locum tenens] as a full-time option rather than part-time,” Mr. Ebner told Flanagan. “We have not seen growth in locum tenens like we have in the past two years since we have been keeping track.”

Mr. Ebner also commented on a 2014 Physicians Foundation Survey showing that 9 percent of doctors currently pursue locum tenens as a career option, which is up from 6.4 percent in 2012.

“This is an increase of 30% over two years, which was eye-opening for us and we expect that trend to continue to increase,” Mr. Ebner told Flanagan.

This increase in locum doctors reflects a growing acceptance among healthcare employers. Twenty years ago, employers were “very skeptical of doctors wanting to work locum tenens," as Anne Anderson, a member of the board of directors for the National Association of Locum Tenens Organizations (NALTO), told Flanagan. "Was it someone who can’t get a job anywhere else?”

That market has changed, Ms. Anderson says. Whereas locums doctors were once primarily retirees, today the demographics have grown and even include residents.

“We’re getting more residents, especially millennials who want to travel and work differently than other generations," she added. "They see locums as a way that can meet some of their personal goals.”

U.S. Physician Shortage One Reason for Increase of Locum Doctors

Why are more physicians moving towards a locum tenens career path, and what does that mean for healthcare employers? Flanagan attributes the growing tendency of locum doctors to move away from the “traditional career path” to a number of factors, including:

  • the ongoing physician shortage
  • physician burnout
  • changes caused by the Affordable Care Act (ACA), such as a growing ratio of patients per physicians
  • an increase in hospital consolidations and practice acquisitions, which reduces the market for private and independent practices

That first item — the ongoing physician shortage — has been the source of a great deal of industry concern and speculation (as you've seen here at The Staff Care Insider).

"The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) estimates by 2025 there will be a shortage of 12,500 to 31,000 primary-care physicians and up to 63,700 non-primary care physicians," Flanagan writes.

"The shortage of clinicians spans all disciplines," AMN Healthcare CEO Susan Salka recently told Mad Money's Jim Cramer in this video. "About a third of physicians are 60 or older, so a good majority of them are going to begin to retire, and we don't have enough new physicians coming into the market.

"It's really been an amazing burst that we've seen in demand," she added. "We're at one of the highest gaps between job openings and job hires within healthcare today. And that means our clients are having challenges in hiring not only temporary but permanent staff. So we come in with a suite of workforce solutions to really help them all across that spectrum." (AMN Healthcare is the parent company of Staff Care.)

Mr. Ebner points out that the physician shortage is especially felt in primary care and behavioral health, which are considered the most requested locum tenens specialties.

“Behavior health is in high demand due to a shrinking workforce that is not being reconstituted as fast as it needs to be,” Mr. Ebner explained. “This had led to a surge in [demand for] psychiatric nurse practitioners (NPs) due to the shortage of MDs.” In addition, Ebner said with the number of physicians coming out of residency being flat since 2012 and an increasing census, “you’re going to have a major [physician] shortage without the ACA figuring into it.”

Another contributing factor to the increase in locum doctors is the consolidation and outsourcing that's grown more prevalent within the healthcare industry.

“You see a lot of movement within healthcare with systems acquiring physician groups, consolidation, third-party outsourcing, and hospitalists in emergency medicine continuing to accelerate and that changes the paradigm for a lot of physicians,” Mr. Ebner told Flanagan.

Is this increase in locum doctors a positive trend for healthcare employers? Mr. Ebner believes so.

“When you have spikes in the census and high demand, different types of things happen," he said. “If you can alleviate the workload with locum tenens it improves patient outcomes and employee morale because it lessens that burden.”

Are you interested in learning more about how locum tenens physicians can help you maintain optimum staffing in the face of an ongoing physician shortage? Or are you seeking locum staffing services in the near future? Either way, Staff Care can help! Contact us today to speak to a locum staffing specialists, or submit a locum tenens staffing request form here.

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