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Physicians Salary Index: Locum Tenens industry growing; where do you stand on the spectrum?

BY CHRIS MCDONALD, Regional Vice President, Delta Locum Tenens

According to studies throughout the industry, the utilization of locum tenens physicians is at an all time high, and is only projected to grow as a more popular practice in the coming years for physician recruitment. In a recent survey conducted by a national staffing firm, 91 percent of the 259 healthcare facility managers surveyed indicated they had used a locum tenens physician at least once in the last 12 months, 42 percent said they are currently looking for one or more locum tenens physicians, and 73 percent of respondents said they use at least one locum tenens physician in a typical month.

As reported by this edition of The Standard, demand for hospitalists and primary care physicians make up almost half of requested searches, and demand remains relatively consistent across the nation.

Although evidence supports a much greater adoption of locum tenens practices then say, that of five years ago, there is still hesitancy on the part of hospital and medical practice executives about making use of this valuable resource. Understandably, the most common argument to the implementation of a locums physician to a recruiting facility is the initial cost of the investment.

When looking at the “bottom line,” utilization of a locums physician requiring a certain dollar amount per hour toward salary, plus travel and housing fees might seem like a hindrance instead of a lucrative investment.

However, in most instances, locum tenens physicians more than pay for themselves in terms of professional service revenue (physician billing) and inpatient and outpatient revenue generated for their affiliate hospital.

Other arguments against utilization of locum tenens physicians have included patient satisfaction ratings, referring physician satisfaction, and the argument against temporary employment itself on physician retention. In all, organizations that use locum tenens physicians have reported a positive impact toward their organization. In instances where high patient volume has increased wait times for patients to receive treatment, overall satisfaction rates plummet, as patients choose to seek healthcare elsewhere, or at a minimum share their woes with friends and relatives (or whatever digital channels at the disposal of their fingertips).

Utilizing a locums physician to compensate high demand and decrease wait times for patients to see a doctor has an immediate effect on patient satisfaction. And, like patients, referring physicians expect fullservice, high-quality care for their patients. They want their radiology reports delivered in a timely manner and they want the comfort of knowing that if they need a cardiology consult at 3:00 a.m. on a Sunday morning that they can get it.

Locum tenens coverage creates access to such scenarios, eliminating tensions and increasing satisfaction of referring physicians. Also, in many cases the additional demand and decrease wait times for patients to see a doctor has an immediate effect on patient satisfaction. And, like patients, referring physicians expect full-service, high-quality care for their patients. They want their radiology reports delivered in a timely manner and they want the comfort of knowing that if they need a cardiology consult at 3:00 a.m. on a Sunday morning that they can get it. Locum tenens coverage creates access to such scenarios, eliminating tensions and increasing satisfaction of referring physicians. Also, in many cases the addition of a locum tenens physician to a team of overstretched full time physicians has actually seen a direct uptick in employment satisfaction and retention rates of full-time physicians. Full-time physicians seeking a work/life balance where they can avoid burnout appreciate the added help of a locums physician covering call twice per week or lessening patient demand by picking up a few additional shifts.

Today, many talented and qualified individuals are choosing locum tenens as a long-term career choice, and this trend seems to be growing. With greater access to locum tenens physicians, healthcare facilities have the opportunity to take advantage of these resources to improve care and satisfaction rates at their organization.

According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, by 2025, physician demand is expected to exceed supply by a range of 46,000 to 90,000, due to an aging population and full implementation of the Affordable Care Act. How healthcare facilities choose to handle this implication will involve creative staffing solutions and the adoption of new payment and delivery models.

As a result, more organizations may be turning to locum tenens physicians as it becomes increasingly difficult to find physicians to fill full-time positions.