Whether a Locum Tenens Physician Is Right for Your Practice

June 18, 2012
Aubrey Westgate

How to determine if a locum tenens physician is right for your practice.

The physician shortage is making it difficult for some practices to recruit physicians. In the next few years, that task will become even more challenging as the shortage intensifies and, if the health law remains intact, an estimated 32 million additional people gain insurance.

Practices that are willing to consider recruiting a wider range of providers - from physician assistants to nurse practitioners to part-time physicians - will have a broader pool of candidates to choose from.

One of those options is adding a locum tenens physician (or part-time physician) to your team. It’s a trend that is picking up speed. A recent survey conducted by physician staffing firm Staff Care found that at least 75 percent of healthcare facility administrators have used locum tenens physicians in the past year.

“Today, the number one reason facilities use locum tenens doctors as cited in the survey is to maintain services and revenue while they seek to fill permanent physicians,” Bonnie Owens, vice president of staff care, told Physicians Practice via e-mail. “Due to the physician shortage, many facilities have gaps in their medical staffs that can go unfilled for months or even years. Locum tenens doctors can prevent outmigration of patients and red ink by holding the fort until a permanent physician is found.”

Why a locum tenens physician might be a good fit for your practice: • Their skills are good. Most survey respondents who worked with a locum tenens physician rated their skill level as either good or excellent.

• They are well received. Sixty-three percent of survey respondents indicated that locum tenens physicians are accepted by patients, colleagues, and administrators.

• They benefit patients. The majority of respondents said a key perk provided by locum tenens physicians is that they allow for continued patient care

• They keep revenue stable. Forty-three percent of respondents said locum tenens physicians prevent revenue loss.

Why a locum tenens physician might not be a good fit for your practice: • Cost concerns. Eighty-six percent of respondents said a main drawback of locum tenens physicians is cost. “In a true cost comparison, the cost difference is not that great between temporary and permanent, but in general, it is more expensive to rely on locum tenens doctors,” said Owens. Still, 79 percent of facilities surveyed said locum tenens physician are worth the cost, both because they can generate revenue and maintain access to services.

• Lack of familiarity. Many respondents said a lack of familiarity with the department and/or the practice is a major drawback.

• Learning Curve. Others cited the need for the physician to learn equipment/procedures as a key disadvantage.

If you’re interested in learning more about locum tenens physicians, Owens advised speaking with a seasoned staffing consultant who can walk you through the utilization, logistics, and costs.

“The idea is to use them strategically, not reflexively,” she said. “Plan for when you will have needs so that you are not scrambling at the last minute.”

Have you ever used temporary physicians at your practice? How did it work for you?