The use of locum tenens, or temporary healthcare providers, has become increasingly common in the healthcare industry over the past few decades. A locum tenens is a physician, nurse practitioner, physician assistant, or other medical professional who fills in for short-term staffing needs at healthcare facilities. Several factors have driven the growth of locum tenens usage in healthcare.
The Continuing Physician Shortage
One major reason is the physician shortage that many parts of the United States are experiencing. With not enough permanent physicians to fill open positions, healthcare organizations have turned to temporary providers to fill gaps and meet patient demand. Using locum tenens allows these facilities to provide care even when they cannot find or afford permanent staff. The physician shortage is projected to continue widening over the next decade, which will likely further increase demand for locum tenens. Every practice should learn more about locum tenens work to see how they can fill gaps within an organization.
Flexibility for Providers and Locum Tenens
Locum tenens provides physicians with the flexibility to take on temporary work assignments ranging from a few days to a few months. This allows doctors to fill gaps in their schedules, take vacations, work part-time after retirement, or try working in different settings. Locums can choose when and where they want to work. It gives them control over their schedule and work-life balance. They can avoid being tied down to one job or location. Locum tenens offers doctors freedom and variety in their careers while still utilizing their medical skills and providing patient care. This increased flexibility is the main appeal for physicians.
Increased Access to Care
By providing short-term coverage, locum tenens allow hospitals and clinics to maintain patient access and continuity of care. They prevent appointment backlogs and reduce the load on permanent staff. Locums can also help fill provider shortages in rural and underserved communities. Their flexibility and mobility enable them to serve diverse locations that lack adequate physician coverage. Overall, locum tenens play a vital role in sustaining healthcare access across all settings and geographic regions.
Lower Healthcare Costs
Locum tenens, or substitute physicians, help lower healthcare costs in several ways. By filling in for doctors when there are staffing shortages, locum tenens prevent care delays and cancellation of procedures, which reduces costs. They also provide access to care in underserved areas without requiring permanent hires. Additionally, using temporary providers versus permanent staff for fluctuating needs gives health systems more flexibility and reduces overhead expenses. Overall, the on-demand flexibility of locum tenens allows health systems to deliver more efficient and cost-effective care. Their temporary role in addressing gaps and spikes in demand optimizes staffing levels and minimizes expenses.
The Drawbacks of Locum Tenens
However, some experts argue the growing reliance on locum tenens also has downsides. Turnover from temporary staff can decrease the continuity of care for patients compared to seeing permanent physicians. Lack of familiarity with the healthcare organization also increases risks of miscommunication and medical errors. Short-term assignments give locums little incentive to invest in longer-term health initiatives.
The costs of using traveling providers are also significantly higher than permanent staff. Their placement fees, travel and housing costs, higher hourly rates, and lack of long-term commitment make locum tenens a more expensive staffing solution. Some organizations simply cannot afford to meet patient demand through temporary staff alone.
Still, the flexibility and immediate availability of locum tenens are major advantages for health systems struggling with staffing shortages. As the physician shortage worsens, locums provide crucial care that otherwise might not be available. The industry likely will continue growing and evolving as healthcare organizations balance the costs and benefits of temporary providers.