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    Survey Says: 77 Percent of Hospitals Report Using Locum Tenens

    By Joseph Caldwell, president of Staff Care*     

    It’s said that nothing in this world is constant except change, and that is certainly true when it comes to how physicians practice medicine. Physician practice models have evolved dramatically in recent years with the emergence of in-patient specialists such as hospitalists and laborists, teleradiology, the increased employment of physicians and the rise of concierge/boutique practices.

    Count locum tenens as another key step in the evolution of medical practice. Twenty years ago, only a handful of physicians practiced on a locum tenens basis and they were a relatively rare breed. Today, locum tenens physicians are providing care across the country in a wide range of medical settings, including hospitals, medical groups and government-supported facilities.

    Staff Care tracks developments in locums staff each year with our Review of Temporary Physician and CRNA Staffing Trends. The Review includes a survey of hospital and medical group managers who use locum tenens physicians and CRNAs. It also includes a survey of locum tenens as well as a breakdown of the types of locum tenens staffing assignments Staff Care conducted in the previous calendar year.

    In our 2008 Review (based on 2007 data), we surveyed 730 hospital and medical group managers. More than three-quarters of those surveyed said their facilities had used locum tenens physicians within the last 12 months, while 54 percent said their facilities currently are seeking temporary physician staffing. When asked to indicate why they use locum tenens physicians, hospital and medical group managers responded as follows:

    Why would you or do you use locum tenens physicians?

    Fill in until a permanent doctor is found……….65%
    Fill in for staff who have left…………………....  61%
    Fill in for vacationing/CME physicians……….. 50%
    Meet rising patient demand…………………….16%
    Fill in during peak usage times………………...15%
    Test market a new service………………………. 3%

    As the numbers above indicate, many facilities are using locum tenens doctors to maintain services and revenue until they can recruit the full-time, permanent physicians they need. While facilities still use locum tenens to fill in for vacationing physicians or those on CME, their primary use today is to fill a vacant position until new staff can be brought on board. Rather than using locum tenens physicians on an ad hoc basis to fill in when an occasional need arises, many facilities are utilizing temporary physicians as an established part of the physician staffing mix.

    Demand grows by more than 20 percent

    The Review also tracks which types of locum tenens doctors are in most demand based on the kind of temporary physicians Staff Care’s clients requested in 2007. Primary care physicians (i.e., family practitioners, general internists and pediatricians) topped the list of the most requested medical specialties, followed by anesthesia providers, behavioral health professionals, radiologists and surgeons. In 2007, the number of requests Staff Care received to fill temporary “physician days” increased by more than 20 percent during 2006, a strong indicator that locum tenens physicians are in growing demand.

    Quality of care

    The survey asked hospital and medical group managers to assess the general skill level of locum tenens physicians. Seventy-six percent of those surveyed rated the skill level of locum tenens physicians as either “good” or “excellent,” while 22 percent rated their skill level as “adequate.” Only 2 percent of those surveyed rated the skill level of locum tenens physicians as “unsatisfactory.”

    Staff Care also surveyed more than 800 physicians about their locum tenens experiences. Nineteen percent said they find locum tenens work more satisfying than permanent practice, while the majority (67 percent) find locum tenens and permanent practices to be equally satisfying. Just 14 percent said they find locum tenens work less satisfying than permanent practice.

    The survey includes additional data about locum tenens physicians, including what they see as the benefits of locums, the average number of assignments they work per year and related information. A complimentary copy of Staff Care’s 2008 Review of Temporary Physician Staffing Trends can be found at .

    *Staff Care and Merritt Hawkins & Associates are divisions of AMN Healthcare (NYSE: AHS).


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