There’s a lot of talk in healthcare about physician recruitment, retention, and the current shortage of doctors. Hospitals and health systems can’t operate without these folks, so when there’s a gap to fill and not enough time to fill it (or enough candidates interested in what a facility has to offer), staffing on the margins, or using locum tenens, is the direction financial leaders head.
The current shortage of doctors ensures that a segment of healthcare is going to have more than its share of business in the coming years. A report on temporary staffing trends from Staff Care, Inc., of Irving, Texas, showed that 48% of physician respondents to a nationwide survey indicated their intention to continue working locums for more than three years. That's up from 39% five years earlier.
Therus Kolff, MD, healthcare strategy advisor for Salt Lake City-based CHG Healthcare Services, spoke at this year’s American Medical Group Conference in Washington, DC. Kolff, a locum tenens thought leader, is the founder of CompHealth, one of the first providers of locum tenens. He offered me his thoughts on the direction of this segment of healthcare.
Q: Where is the locum tenens segment headed over the next three to five years?
A: "It’s grown dramatically and it will continue to do so," he said. The advent of healthcare reform coupled with the fact that baby boomers are getting ready to retire and the continual shortage of medical training programs means increased demand for physicians, he says.
"These days it’s even more important that we retain as many physicians in this profession for as long as possible. There have been a lot of predictions that if the [stock] portfolios of doctors ages 50-60 years old come back, that these physicians may retire. We don’t want that as a society – we need those doctors to continue to take patients," Kolff said.
Q: What prompts a physician to opt for a locum tenens role versus hospital employment?
A: "Locum tenens allows the physician to experience what it’s like to practice pure medicine again; they don’t have to deal with the hassles of billing and collections," said Kolff.
There are three overarching groups of physicians interested in working as a locum tenens, Kolff explains. Each group has a different reason for opting for this avenue—which can be beneficial to the hospital:
(1) The younger physician: This doctor has worked hard to get into medical school and has been working as a resident but not getting paid much. ‘Some of these physicians may not know where they want to live and work, or even what specialty they want to practice. Or they may want to take some time off before they begin working full-time," he says.