There was a time, not so long ago, when "locum tenens" firms would contact hospitals and would be met with the equivalent of a blank stare: "Local what? Never heard of it!"
That is no longer the case. Over the past 30 years locum tenens physician staffing has gone from a little-known, little-utilized staffing alternative to a multi-billion dollar industry. It is estimated that 75% of US hospitals have utilized a locum tenens physician to assist with coverage needs in the last 12 months, and the way healthcare is trending it is almost certain that this number will increase. Here's why.
1. The Affordable Care Act (AKA "Obama Care") will allow about 30 million more Americans to have access to health insurance starting in 2014, meaning that we can expect already significant locum tenens coverage needs to drastically increase in coming years.
2. Baby Boomers-- One of the largest factors to affect healthcare as we know it is the aging patient population. In 2000, the US Census reported that there were 36 million 65-year-olds living in the US. By 2040, that number is expected to more than double to 78 million. To break it down for you: every 8 seconds another Baby Boomer turns 65. An aging patient population means more doctor visits, more crowded emergency rooms and more surgeries. Hospitals, particularly those in rural areas, will have to rely more and more on developing and maintaining relationships with traveling physicians who can assist on a temporary or short-term basis.
3. Physician Shortage-- For a host of reasons, the U.S. is facing a significant physician shortage in coming years. Physician satisfaction is a weighty factor. In the 2011 National Physicians Survey, 65% of physicians polled said that they believe the quality of health care in the US will decrease in the next 5 years. An earlier survey conducted by Merritt Hawkins indicated that half of physicians from age 50-65 are frustrated with their practices and plan to sharply cut back or abandon patient care within the next 3 years. Only 10% of nearly 1,200 responding physicians said the practice of medicine is "very satisfying". Physicians cite reimbursement issues, malpractice worries and long hours as contributing factors to their dissatisfaction, and 57% of those polled said that they would discourage their children from entering medicine. The number of women entering the physician workforce is contributing to the shortage as well, due to the fact that female physicians work about 18% fewer hours than their male counterparts. These factors are exacerbated by another significant issue: there is a shortage of medical resident positions in the U.S. So even if people continue to pursue medicine, the opportunity to affect the looming physician shortage will be hindered. There are about 110,000 resident positions in the U.S., according to the Association of American Medical Colleges, not enough to accommodate the millions of Americans who will have access to health insurance in the near future. At current graduation and training rates, the nation could face a shortage of as many as 150,000 doctors in the next 15 years. Due to these shortages, hospitals will have to do more with less. That will mean utilizing locum tenens physicians to supplement their current staff.
The rising demand for physicians is a reality, and locum tenens will be integral in contributing to a solution. Physicians and hospitals can begin preparing now! Both providers and healthcare organizations can begin aligning themselves with a selection of trusted locum tenens firms, which can help them navigate the changing healthcare landscape in the coming years.
Article written by:
VP of Sales, Health Carousel Locum Tenens