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3 Things to Know About Locum Tenens Staffing

Analysis  |  By Lena J. Weiner  
   February 20, 2017

The demand for locum tenens services is growing. Assignments for physicians are getting longer and there is a rising demand for specialists in primary care, emergency medicine, and behavioral health.

A temporary staffing solution with roots in the 1970's has evolved to meet the changing needs of the healthcare industry.

Forty years ago, locum tenens physicians were commonly called on to fill short-term gaps in staffing for a week or two. Today, they are in great demand for a wide variety of situations says Sean Ebner, president at Staff Care, a locum tenens staffing firm headquartered in Dallas.

The results of Staff Care's annual survey revealed that 94% of healthcare facility managers used locum tenens during the last 12 months.

Improved access and demand for care has given physician hiring and staffing a boost, but the healthcare industry's needs have evolved. The way hospitals and health systems use alternative staffing arrangements and locum tenens resources is shifting.

Ebner believes the real driver of demand for locum tenens docs is scarcity. "[It's] high, and it continues to get more severe," Ebner says.

Here are four ways the use of new locum tenens has changed over the decades.

1. Longer Assignments

Old Way: Locum tenens placements typically lasted a couple of weeks to relieve short-term gaps in employment, such as vacations.

New Way: Assignments are getting longer. Nearly 40 percent of the clinicians surveyed by Staff Care said their ideal assignment would last between one and four months; 16.5% said an ideal assignment would last between nine and 12 months.

Some organizations might bring on a locum tenens physician while searching for a permanent hire; hospitals located in resort areas or college towns will use them to beef up staffing during the busy season.

2. More Flexibility From Physicians

Old Way:
Clinicians were either locum tenens or weren't.

New Way: Some locum tenens docs are also employed physicians willing to pick up extra shifts for extra cash.

Because of the structure of clinicians' shifts, many doctors and nurses can easily augment full time employment with locum tenens assignments, Ebner says. "We see many physicians that are fully employed or have their own practice, but pick up additional shifts through an agency."

3. Demand for Specialists

Old Way: Locum tenens physicians were generalists.

New Way: Locum tenens staffing firms are recruiting specialists to meet demand.

From surgeons to oncologists, many types of specialists are available on a locum tenens basis. Nurse practitioners are among the most in-demand. Twelve percent of respondents to the Staff Care survey looking to bring on locum tenens staff said they plan to bring on locum tenens nurse practitioners.

Hospitalists (22.2%) and behavioral health specialists (23.3%) are in even greater demand. Other specialties in demand include urgent care and anesthesiologists.

There's also been a jump in demand for emergency medicine practitioners. "ED visits have been significantly on the rise, which lends itself to a raise in locum tenens staffing of emergency physicians."

One thing that hasn't changed much: Primary care physicians have long been a mainstay of locum tenens resources. They still are. As the demand for greater preventative care has grown, demand for primary care physicians has grown along with it, says Ebner.

Lena J. Weiner is an associate editor at HealthLeaders Media.

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