Hiring a physician is a long-term commitment, which is why brining a locum on board first can be a viable short-term option or trial run.
It’s a big decision to bring a new physician into your practice. Sometimes, bringing in a new full-time physician is just what your practice needs, especially if you’re looking to expand your service offerings and treat more patients.
But what if you are feeling some growing pains but are not quite ready for a full-time person? Or perhaps you just want to go on vacation without worrying about your patients and the office? Or even more impactful, what if one of your physicians is going to be out on an extended leave or you want to add a new service offering but aren’t sure if it will take off?
These are instances where working with a locum tenens physician can be a real advantage to your practice, both in the short term and in the long term.
Adding a new service to your practice can bring in more business and, if you are in an area with less access to healthcare services or a shortage of healthcare providers, it can be a real boon to the community. However, adding something new also brings some risk. If it doesn’t work out, it’s difficult to separate if you already have that new dermatologist or orthopedic surgeon on a long-term contract.
A locum tenens physician allows you to test your new concept for a few months. If it works, keep the locums working while you recruit a permanent physician, or see if the locums would like to stay on permanently. If you find you don’t have the patient load to support a full-time physician, you just let the locums finish their contract and then move on.
Bringing in locums physicians can also greatly speed up a facility’s ability to offer new services. Kelly Cameron, director of provider recruitment and retention for Mercyhealth in southern Wisconsin and northern Illinois, has found great benefits working with locums.
"When we started an orthopedic surgery department, we used all locums to start that up while we hired full-time orthopedic surgeons. We want a locum tenens physician who will become part of that team, whether that’s for a weekend, a week, a month, six months or however long that physician is here with us."
Locums is also a great option if you have seasonal needs or want to offer a particular service on certain days of the month.
The biggest impact a locum tenens physician can have is on direct patient care. If you practice in a rural area, you already know how difficult it can be to offer patients the specialized care they may need. Hiring a locums to meet those needs helps solve a critical health need. However, it’s not just rural patients who can benefit from locums physicians. Many hospitals and practices around the country are understaffed and have patients in need.
While there are times when locum tenens physicians will be in the right place at the right time to literally save a life, in most instances, the greatest benefit of working with locums are expanded medical options, greater availability for appointments and better patient access to clinical care.
Another great use of a locum tenens physicians is for gap coverage. Locums is a great option if you go on maternity leave or medical leave. It’s also an attractive option if a you just want to take an extended family vacation without feeling like you can’t leave your patients. Hiring a temporary physician ensures your practice doesn’t end up shorthanded. Keeping a full staff improves your patient outcomes and ensures your staff aren’t overwhelmed picking up the extra work.
In addition to covering for physicians who are out, locum tenens physicians can also be good for your practice’s finances. Physicians are primary revenue generators of any practice. If they are not seeing patients, then your practice is not bringing in any money. Locum tenens physicians allows your practice to keep billing for services even when patients’ regular physician is out of office.
"If we don’t have a physician working, that means we don’t have a nurse working, and it goes all the way down through the organization. So the locum physicians are an integral part of how we provide care,” Cameron says. “We always look for better efficiencies and how to make our system run smoother, faster and more conveniently for our patients. Locums are a key part of that."
Locum tenens plays a role in our modern healthcare system. Utilizing one at your practice may be just what the doctor ordered to help your practice survive - and thrive.
Lisa Grabl is president of CompHealth, the nation’s largest provider of locum tenens physicians and founder of the traveling physician industry. She joined CompHealth in 2001 as a sales consultant and served in a variety of management roles prior to being named president in 2017. Lisa is passionate about building lasting relationships and helping her team members reach their highest potential