The use of temporary physicians is rising, filling in until permanent physicians can be hired amid the ongoing shortage of doctors nationwide, a locum tenens firm has found. The company estimates between 30,000 and 40,000 physicians worked on a locum tenens basis in 2010.
The survey, by Staff Care, polled hospital and medical group managers about their use of locum tenens. Eighty-five percent said their facilities had used temporary physicians sometime in 2010, up from 72 percent in 2009.
Psychiatrists and other behavioral health specialists were the most sought-after specialty (22 percent of all requests), followed by primary care physicians, defined as family physicians, general internists and pediatricians (20 percent) and internal medicine subspecialists (12 percent). Hospitalists were 9 percent.
According to the survey, the primary reason cited by 63 percent of healthcare facilities was to fill a position until a permanent physician could be found. Forty-six percent of healthcare facilities now use locum tenens physicians to fill in for physicians who have left the area, compared to 22 percent in 2009. Fourteen percent use locum tenens doctors to either help meet rising patient demand for medical services or to fill in during peak times, such as flu season. Fifty-three percent use locum tenens physicians to fill in for physicians who are on vacation, ill or for other absences.
Most locum tenens physicians plan to stick with temporary practice in the short-term, the company noted. Sixty percent said they plan to practice on a locum tenens basis for more than three years, 28 percent for one to three years and 12 percent for less than a year.
Freedom trumps pay, the company noted, as 82 percent cited flexibility as a benefit, compared to 16 percent who identified pay as a benefit. Other reasons cited for working as a locum tenens include absence of medical politics (48 percent), travel (44 percent), professional development (21 percent) and searching for permanent practice (20 percent).
The locum tenens option is important to maintaining physician supply, the company concluded, because during a time of physician shortages it allows doctors who might be considering full retirement to remain active in medicine.
*This blog post was originally published at ACP Internist*