Better Health: Smart Health Commentary Better Health (TM): smart health commentary

Latest Posts

More Physician Temps Needed For Doctor Shortage

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*

The Physician Exodus: When Doctors Leave Hospitals Behind

My partners and I have long struggled with the lack of specialty back-up at our hospital. Semi-rural hospitals, out of the way facilities, just can’t always attract specialists. So, we’re happy to have cardiologists every night, but understand that we only have an ENT every third night. We’re thankful to have neurologists, even if they don’t admit anyone. We’re glad to have radiologists, even if they don’t read plain films after 5PM on weekdays.

Still, I continue to scratch my head about why only three of seven community pediatricians take call, such that family physicians have to admit their patients. I was bumfuzzled that our neurologists were previously going to require us to use telemedicine for stroke evaluation when their offices were close by the hospital. (In the same year they were called in roughly three times per neurologist for urgent stroke evaluation.) That problem was resolved, thank goodness.

Now, I find that the problem has returned and grown. We will, very soon, have no ophthalmologist on call, despite the fact that we have three in the community and that they are contacted with remarkable rarity to deal with on-call emergencies. Soon, we will have no neurologist on the weekend. And the pediatric problem remains.

Of course, I’m using my local experience to highlight something that isn’t a local problem at all. It’s a national problem. All over America, specialists are relinquishing their hospital priveleges and staying in the office. Proceduralists are opening surgery centers that are free from the burdens of indigent care. Primary care physicians are allowing hospitalists to do all of their admissions.

In the process, not only are patients losing out, but referral centers are being absolutely overwhelmed. The cities and counties that lie around teaching hospitals are sending steady streams of patients, since they have fewer and fewer specialists. Those referral and teaching centers want patients, but they can’t take all of the non-paying patients, all of the complicated, or even all of the mundane patients with no local coverage. Those facilities, for all their shiny billboards and “center of excellence” marketing, will collapse. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at*

Latest Interviews

IDEA Labs: Medical Students Take The Lead In Healthcare Innovation

It’s no secret that doctors are disappointed with the way that the U.S. healthcare system is evolving. Most feel helpless about improving their work conditions or solving technical problems in patient care. Fortunately one young medical student was undeterred by the mountain of disappointment carried by his senior clinician mentors…

Read more »

How To Be A Successful Patient: Young Doctors Offer Some Advice

I am proud to be a part of the American Resident Project an initiative that promotes the writing of medical students residents and new physicians as they explore ideas for transforming American health care delivery. I recently had the opportunity to interview three of the writing fellows about how to…

Read more »

See all interviews »

Latest Cartoon

See all cartoons »

Latest Book Reviews

Book Review: Is Empathy Learned By Faking It Till It’s Real?

I m often asked to do book reviews on my blog and I rarely agree to them. This is because it takes me a long time to read a book and then if I don t enjoy it I figure the author would rather me remain silent than publish my…

Read more »

The Spirit Of The Place: Samuel Shem’s New Book May Depress You

When I was in medical school I read Samuel Shem s House Of God as a right of passage. At the time I found it to be a cynical yet eerily accurate portrayal of the underbelly of academic medicine. I gained comfort from its gallows humor and it made me…

Read more »

Eat To Save Your Life: Another Half-True Diet Book

I am hesitant to review diet books because they are so often a tangled mess of fact and fiction. Teasing out their truth from falsehood is about as exhausting as delousing a long-haired elementary school student. However after being approached by the authors’ PR agency with the promise of a…

Read more »

See all book reviews »