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Analysis

Locum Tenens Use Widespread in 2019, Survey Shows

By John Commins  
   February 24, 2020

About 52,000 physicians worked as locum tenens in 2019, representing about 6% of all practicing physicians.

About 85% of hospitals, medical groups, and other provider venues used locum tenens doctors in 2019, mostly to maintain services until permanent physicians could be found as replacements, according to a new survey from Staff Care.

"Virtually every hospital in the United States now uses locum tenens doctors," said Staff Care President Jeff Decker.  "They have emerged as a key part of the medical workforce in an era of physician shortages and evolving delivery models."

Staff Care estimates that about 52,000 physicians worked as locum tenens in 2019, representing about 6% of all practicing physicians.

Decker said more physicians are choosing to become locum tenens "because it allows them to focus on what they like to do best, which is treat patients, while minimizing the administrative duties they like least."

The increasing use of locum tenens comes with the rise of the employed physician model, which gives physicians more freedom to switch jobs, Decker said, thus creating more temporary openings, and increasing the demand for locum tenens.

Employed physicians' vacation and continuing medical education time off each year also increases demand for locum tenens, Decker said.

The survey found that primary care physicians are the most in-demand locum tenens doctors, with 30% of healthcare facility managers reporting that they used locum tenens primary care doctors in 2019. However, the use of locum tenens primary care doctors in 2019 is down from 44% in 2016, Staff Care's last  survey.

Conversely, the use of locum tenens specialists has grown.  In 2019, 21% of healthcare facilities managers reported using locum tenens surgeons, up from 11% in 2016; 17% reported using locum tenens internal medicine subspecialists, up from 9%; and 22% reported using locum tenens anesthesiologists, up from 11%.

Demand also continues to be strong for locum tenens nurse practitioners and physician assistants, with 32% of healthcare facility managers reporting use of their services in 2019, up from 26.4% in 2016, and 9.5% in 2012.

Nearly two-thirds (62%) of health facility managers rated the skills of locum tenens physicians as excellent or good, while 33% rated the skills as adequate, and 4% rated the skills as poor.

Decker said the demand for specialists is being fueled by an aging general population and an aging physician workforce.

Last April, the Association of American Medical Colleges projected a shortage of up to 122,000 physicians by 2032, including up to 55,000 primary care doctors and up to 67,000 specialists.

"Older patients need specialists to care for ailing organs and body systems," Decker said. "We simply don’t have enough of them to go around."

“Virtually every hospital in the United States now uses locum tenens doctors.”

John Commins is a content specialist and online news editor for HealthLeaders, a Simplify Compliance brand.


KEY TAKEAWAYS

Primary care physicians are the most in-demand locum tenens doctors, with 30% of healthcare facility managers reporting their use in 2019.

In 2019, 21% of healthcare facilities managers reported using locum tenens surgeons, up from 11% in 2016.

Demand also continues to be strong for locum tenens nurse practitioners and physician assistants.


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