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As Physician Shortage Mounts, Hospitals Turn To Temporary Doctors

Wed, 09/16/2009 - 6:12am

Nationwide survey finds healthcare facilities are utilizing temporary doctors, known as locum tenens, to fill openings in primary care, anesthesiology, surgery and more.

According to a new survey from Staff Care, a nationwide physician staffing firm and an AMN Healthcare company, primary care doctors are the most in-demand medical providers being sought to temporarily fill openings at healthcare facilities in the U.S.

The survey reveals 70 percent of healthcare facilities have used temporary doctors, known as the Latin phrase locum tenens, in the last 12 months. Of those surveyed, 43 percent are seeking temporary primary care physicians more than twice the need for any other doctor or healthcare professional.

“A shortage of primary care physicians is affecting virtually every region of the country," notes Tim Boes, president of Staff Care. "Hospitals, medical groups and other healthcare facilities are using temporary, locum tenens doctors to maintain services until permanent physicians can be found."

Among other temporary healthcare professionals being sought by facilities include:

  • Anesthesia providers: 20 percent of healthcare facilities are seeking locum tenens anesthesiologists or other anesthesia providers.
  • Mental health specialists: 16 percent of healthcare facilities are seeking doctors in this area.
  • Radiologists: 11 percent.
  • Surgeons: 8 percent.
  • Dentists: 2 percent.

The survey reports 63 percent of facilities surveyed indicate they use at least one locum tenens physician in a typical month while 43 percent said they use at least four locum tenens physicians in a typical month.

As Boes explains, locum tenens physicians work temporary assignments that can last from a few days up to a year. Some may work one or two assignments annually on a moonlighting basis, while others work year-round.

According to Boes, more physicians are accepting locum tenens because it provides an alternative to the reimbursement and management challenges inherent to traditional medical practice.

However, one might question how a physician working temporarily, moving from facility-to-facility, can get to know a patient. Or, does a physician coming in to a surgical or medical case on short notice have an adverse effect on patient care, or possibly does it offer a fresh perspective in diagnosing and caring for a patient?

Overall, it seems facilities and physicians alike are embracing the role of locum tenens. In addition to responses from hospitals and medical groups, Staff Care's 2009 Survey of Temporary Physician Staffing Trends includes responses from over 750 physicians who work on a locum tenens basis. Physicians surveyed rated "freedom and flexibility" as the main benefit of working as a locum tenens, followed by "lack of medical politics," "travel," "pay rate," "professional development," and a "way to find a permanent job."

A copy of Staff Care's 2009 Survey of Temporary Physician Staffing Trends can be accessed at www.staffcare.com.

Source: Staff Care

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