For decades, health care organizations have relied on locum tenens physicians and medical professionals to satisfy staffing shortages. In more recent years, as the physician shortage has worsened, this reliance on temporary replacements has become a common practice throughout the industry. More physicians are also using locum tenens assignments as a portal into the industry, a way to explore professional options, and a means to taper off responsibilities at the end of a long career.
In 2016, almost 48,000 physicians took on locum tenens assignments. This is a substantial increase from the 44,000 in 2014, and 26,000 in 2002, suggesting that more medical professionals view temporary placements as a normal part of the health care landscape.
The widespread utilization of temporary professionals by provider organizations has also nurtured this acceptance. In 2016, almost 94 percent of health care facilities employed at least one locum tenens physician during the year, up from 91 percent in 2014 and 74 percent in 2012.
The primary driver for hiring locum tenens professionals was the loss of a staffer in a critical position. Primary care doctors were the most requested, with 44 percent of provider organizations hiring one in 2015, up from 35 percent in 2014 and 28 percent in 2012. Other popular physician specialties included hospitalists, mental health professionals and emergency medicine physicians.
The most common length of locum tenens assignments was from 5 weeks to 6 months, with a typical week comprised of 60 hours of work. Locum tenens doctors earned, on average, $120 an hour, for which their client was billed $170 an hour.
The health care staffing industry grew 13 percent in 2016, and is expected to grow 8 percent in 2017. The influx of insured patients due to the expansion of coverage from the private health insurance marketplaces and Medicaid is a driving force in the increasing demand for health care providers. The Affordable Care Act has dramatically grown the insured population in the U.S.; the net change of insured was 9.66 million in 2014 and 7.92 million in 2015, compared to only 1.35 million in 2012 and 1.23 million in 2013.
The number of insured Americans is expected to grow to 25 million by 2020, if the ACA or a comparable health insurance mechanism remains in effect. A rapidly burgeoning senior population is also expected to strengthen demand for health care professionals. The population of 40 million Americans aged 65 or older is projected to reach 73 million by 2030. The senior population is one that will require significant health care resources. Almost 90 percent of seniors have at least one chronic health condition and 70 percent have multiple health conditions.
The shortage of physicians is expected to grow during this period, contributing to a greater reliance upon locum tenens providers. In 2013, there was a shortage of 11,000 physicians (1%) in the U.S.; by 2025, this shortage is estimated to increase to 72,800 providers (8%).
Article written by:
Dr. Robert Moghim, CEO Moghim Medical Consulting Inc.