Shortages Lead to Rise in Use of Locum Tenens Physicians

February 16, 2011

The use of locum tenens physicians is rising, as hospitals and medical groups struggle with widespread doctor shortages, a new survey found. Psychiatrists and other behavioral health specialists were among the temporary positions most in demand.

The use of locum tenens physicians is rising, as more hospitals and medical groups struggle to fill full-time positions amid widespread doctor shortages, according to a recent survey. Psychiatrists and other behavioral health specialists were among the temporary positions most in demand.

The 2011 Survey of Temporary Physician Staffing Trends, conducted by Irving, Texas, staffing-services firm Staff Care Inc., polled hospital and medical group managers about their use of locum tenens physicians. The majority of those surveyed, or 85%, said their facilities had used temporary physicians sometime in the last 12 months, up from 72% a year earlier. The primary reason hospitals and medical groups use temporary doctors, cited by 63 percent of those surveyed, is to fill in until a permanent doctor can be found.

In addition, the number of facilities seeking locum tenens physicians is rising — 41% of those surveyed indicated they are currently seeking temporary physicians, up from to 40% in 2009.

"There are simply too few physicians to fill all the available vacancies today," Tim Boes, president of Staff Care, said in a statement. "Temporary doctors are providing critical, interim patient care services for many healthcare facilities until they can find the full-time physicians they need." He added that more physicians are turning to locum tenens practices because it can relieve them of reimbursement, malpractice, and bureaucratic headaches.

Indeed, a 2010 survey found that the majority of locum tenens physicians surveyed found their work satisfying, but lower pay and time away from family were cited as the main drawbacks to the job.

Locum tenens doctors provide coverage for physicians who are away on vacation or pursuing continuing education, temporarily fill in for doctors who have left permanent positions and help test market new services for healthcare facilities.

The Staff Care survey found that psychiatrists and other behavioral health specialists are in the most demand as temporary practitioners, accounting for 22% of requests for Locum tenens doctors from Staff Care in 2010. The reason: The number of psychiatrists trained in the U.S. has remained flat, while demand for mental-health services has spiked due to population growth, the growing number of senior citizens, and the stress bred by the prolonged economic recession and two wars, according to Boes.

Other temporary physician specialties in demand included: primary care physicians (20% of requests); internal medicine subspecialists (12%); anesthesia providers (11%); surgeons (7%); hospitalists (9%); radiologists (7%); emergency medicine and dentists (4%); and oncologists (2%).

See results of the Staff Care survey here.