Caveat Emptor For Locum Tenens

We’ve been reporting for a long time on the physician shortage and how various stakeholders try to deal with it.

It perhaps comes as no surprise, then, that hospitals and medical groups rely increasingly on locum tenens physicians to help fill the gaps, thereby ensuring continuity of care and of revenue streams.

But what about quality?

That question was put to 106 hospital, medical group, and government health facility managers in a study by Staff Care, a physician staffing company.

“The majority (57 percent) rated locum tenens physicians’ skills as either good or excellent, down from 72 percent in 2010 … from 66 percent in 2009 and 76 percent in 2007,” the study states. “One reason … may be the proliferation of both locum tenens physicians and locum tenens staffing firms that place physician candidates, leading to less uniform standards. The 2012 survey suggests that users of locum tenens physicians ensure the staffing firms they work with have robust quality and credentialing programs in place.”

The survey was conducted between October 2011 and February 2012 and suggests how much scrambling will need to be done as more people get insurance under the Affordable Care Act — scrambling that will include using locum tenens doctors. In fact, these temporary players seem to have carved out a permanent niche in the industry.

“In each of the last five temporary physician staffing surveys conducted by Staff Care, at least 72 percent of respondents have indicated that their facilities used locum tenens physicians sometime in the previous 12 months, suggesting that the use of locum tenens physicians has become a standard practice at the majority of health care facilities offering physician services,” the study states. In addition, 41 percent say that they are currently looking for temporary physicians. Perhaps not surprisingly, the most sought-after temp doctors are in primary care.

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