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Primary care physicians rank high on list of most used locum tenens staff

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Family medicine, internists, pediatricians used in 21% of facilities across nation.

Primary care physicians and hospitalists were among the most used locum tenens doctors in hospitals, medical groups and other settings in the last year, according to a new survey.

A full 88% of health care facilities used temporary physicians and other medical staff to supplement existing staff in the last 12 months, according to the AMN Healthcare 2022 Survey of Locum Tenens Staffing Trends. On May 31, the Dallas, Texas-based staffing company published its report on responses from 202 hospital, medical group and health care facility managers.

Among those, 70% said they use locum tenens workers to maintain services while health system leaders seek to fill openings in permanent staff rosters. Primary care physicians, including family medicine physicians, internal medicine physicians and pediatricians, were used in 21% of health care facilities in the last 12 months.

An additional 20% used locum tenens nurse practitioners and 12% used temporary physicians assistants for primary care, indicating that primary care is shifting from doctors to those medical workers, according to the survey.

“A long-standing shortage of physicians, which has been exacerbated by COVID-19, has made locum tenens physicians an even more essential part of delivering quality care at most hospitals in the United States,” said Jeff Decker, Division President of Locum Tenens at AMN Healthcare. “They are part of an increasingly flexible healthcare workforce that can be mobile and able to deliver care when and where they are needed most.”

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Estimating current and future demand, 25% of health care facilities are seeking primary care physicians, including family practitioners, internists and pediatricians, and 21% seeking hospitalists. Both those figures were down 31% and 27%, respectively, from the 2019 survey.

Reasons for locum tenens

Along with filling in open slots, the survey reported the most popular reasons for using locum tenens staff was to meet rising patient demand (25%), fill in during peak usage times (23%), and address physician and staff burnout (13%).

The greatest benefits of using locum tenens physicians were allowing continual treatment of patients (66%), immediate availability of providers (56%), and preventing existing staff burnout (35%). Cost was the greatest drawback, according to 85% of managers, and other main drawbacks were lack of familiarity with departments and practices (53%) and credentialing issues (46%).

To address physician and staff shortages, 54% of health care system managers said they will implement incentives such as signing and referral bonuses. The survey reported 43% will hire additional staff, 35% will expand telehealth and 33% will start retention strategies, such as bonuses, for current staff.

Pandemic effects

The primary care physicians ranked fourth on the list of most used medical staff behind anesthesiologists and certified registered nurse anesthetists (28%), hospitalists (25%) and behavioral health specialists (23%).

The report said those figures reflected effects of the pandemic:

  • Medical procedures requiring anesthesia rebounded from COVID-19 related lows
  • Hospitalists had greater workloads due to COVID-19 patients
  • The pandemic likely worsened a shortage of behavioral health specialists

For treating COVID-19 patients, 17% of respondents said locum tenens staff were extremely important, 41% said temporary staff were very important and 27% said they were moderately important, with 11% reporting slightly important and 4% stating they were not at all important.


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