Filling the Gaps with Locum Tenens, Nurses, PAs

March 25, 2013
Laura Joszt

To battle the physician shortage health care facilities are looking at more temporary physician assistants and nurse practitioners to fill in for full-time doctors.

In order combat the worrying physician shortage, health care facilities have been getting creative with how they can continue providing quality care.

Forbes has reported that some facilities are looking to replace full-time physicians with temporary physician assistants (PAs) and nurse practitioners (NPs), according to a new report. In 2012, 10% of staffing requests were for temporary PAs or NPs, compared to just 2% of all requests in 2010. More than half of health care facilities surveyed said they use temporary health care professionals to maintain services while they have open permanent positions.

According to Staff Care’s 2012 Survey of Temporary Physician Staffing Trends, health care facilities will need to increasingly incorporate locum tenens professionals into their staffing plans to meeting the growing access and quality needs of patients.

“The clinical workforce is going through a period of transition in which physicians and other healthcare professionals are embracing a variety of different practice styles, including locum tenens. This is occurring at a time when the population is both aging and growing. Healthcare reform promises to add tens of millions of people to the ranks of the insured, increasing the already robust demand for healthcare services.”

The physician shortage has led to a new use of locum tenens, which were once used mostly to fill in for sick or vacationing physicians. A survey from Weatherby Healthcare in May 2012 revealed that demand for locum tenens had increased and 94% of physicians would like the more accommodating schedule that becoming a locum tenens or temporary physician offers.

“There are simply too few physicians to fill all the available vacancies today,” notes Sean Ebner, president of Staff Care. “Temporary doctors are providing critical, interim patient care for many health care facilities until they can find the full-time physicians they need.”

However, the results of Staff Care’s survey don’t show any marked increase in the use of locum tenens. In 2012, 74% of facilities reported using a temporary physician during the year, which was down from 75% in 2011, 85% in 2010 and 77% in 2007. In fact, the number of facilities actively looking for locum tenens physicians was down to 32% from 41% in 2011 and 54% in 2007.

The physician shortage isn’t the only reason facilities are leaning more heavily on temporary physicians — transitions within the industry are another.

“Information technology is another new reason for using locum tenens physicians. About four percent of survey respondents said they use locum tenens physicians during electronic medical record (EMR) training. It may take several weeks for physicians to learn new EMR systems, and some healthcare facilities use locum tenens physicians to maintain services during these down periods.”

Furthermore, an increasing number of physicians, NPs and PAs are looking to work locum tenens. Almost two-thirds (63%) of survey respondents began working locum tenens either in mid-career or right after residency.

Most respondents (68%) said that working locum tenens was equally as satisfying as working full time, with a slightly larger share saying that locum tenens is less satisfying than a permanent position (18% to 14%).

The vast majority of locum tenens cited freedom and flexibility as the biggest benefit of working locum tenens, while being away from home was the largest drawback.

“Temporary practice is an increasingly popular alternative for many doctors who are tired of the reimbursement, malpractice and bureaucratic challenges they face today,” Ebner says. “It reduces the hassles and allows doctors to do what they do best, which is to provide superior patient care.”

See the whole survey here (PDF).

Read more:

Amid Doctor Shortage, Hospitals Turn to Dwindling Supple of Nurses, Physician Assistants - Forbes


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