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Locum Tenens: Trends in Escalating Demand

in Labor Quality

How heavily does your organization rely on locum tenens? If you’re like a majority of hospitals and health systems, it’s quite a bit. In 2016, 94 percent of surveyed healthcare facility managers reported using locum tenens physicians. According to Staff Care, that’s a significant rise in 2012, only 74 percent were using locum tenens. A further 76 percent reported using at least one in a typical month; 24 percent reported using four or more.

So why is there an upward trend in locum tenens demand?

Consider the current surge in the number of practicing physicians nearing retirement. It’s at an all-time high with the aging of the baby boomer generation. With baby boomers at retirement age, they also make up healthcare’s highest-utilizing aging population. The increase in demand combined with the scarcity of physicians means that we’re facing a medical drought.

How bad is the medical drought expected to be? According to the AAMC, the US will be short 40,800–104,900 physicians. It’s that bad. The shortage is especially dire for primary care physicians: according to the HRSA, the growth in primary care physician supply will not be adequate to meet demand in 2020, with a projected shortage of 20,400 physicians.

Figure 1: Source AAMC, HRSA

This is the time when strategy is critical to ensure you’re meeting your staffing needs. When resources and personnel are even harder to come by, the key is to ensure you’re prepared to meet demand. To do this, the time is now to look at outside help. When polled, 53.6 percent of healthcare facility managers reported using two to three search firms/staffing agencies to meet their staffing needs; 30.6 use four or more.

Locum tenens staffing through outside firms is a clear solution. However, coordination presents a number of challenges. Communication with agencies is one of the top issues that many facilities face. It’s common for multiple people within a hospital or health system to be responsible for sourcing staff. The question you need to ask yourself is this: Do all of these departments communicate with one another when filling staff positions? If not, they’re missing out on better market rates and you may be spending more than you need to meet your hospital’s needs.

Enter the vendor management system (VMS).

A VMS is a centralized software-as-a-service (SaaS) platform for managing your relationship with staffing agencies facilitating everything from outreach and negotiation to credential management and billing.

Increase Visibility

When every department is responsible for meeting its own staffing needs, it becomes difficult for the right hand to know what the left hand is doing. Ideally you want to be aware of both hands; otherwise, it’s hard to know how much demand you will need and spending will quickly go out of control.

A solid VMS should deliver key performance indicator (KPI) reporting to keep you abreast of what is going on in all of your departments. Stay up to date on fill rates, time-to-fill, conversion rates, average staff evaluation grades, total spending across the organization and more. With all of this KPI information at your fingertips, you are better equipped to understand your contingent workforce costs and conduct better budget forecasting.

Control Costs

According to Staff Care, 94 percent of surveyed healthcare facility managers cite cost as the greatest drawback in hiring locum tenens. That’s not just the cost of salary, but everything involved in the hiring process time spent searching for candidates, negotiating with agencies, training, etc.

With a high-quality, vendor-neutral VMS, vendors compete with one another to provide the highest-quality candidates at the most competitive rates.  Each vendor wants to be the one to meet your needs and knows that you are communicating with their competition. This competition helps ensure you don’t pay above-market rates just to meet physician demand.

Further, you’ll find that communicating with all of your vendors through a VMS platform will cut down on time (i.e., money) spent collecting timesheets, approvals, and contacting staffing agencies. And with consolidated invoicing, you can make all approvals, manage accurate data, and ensure error-free practices. On a single invoice, broken down to the unit level, you can take care of all your vendor obligations.

While you are cutting costs, a good VMS ensures that you aren’t cutting quality. According to Staff Care, Physicians practicing locum tenens today are rigorously screened because staffing firms are at risk for their malpractice insurance and because they compete with each other based on the quality of physicians they are able to provide. Surveyed healthcare facility managers agree with this ensured quality; 66 percent rate the skill level of locum tenens physicians as “excellent” or “good”. Further, you are given your pick of multiple agencies, increasing the pool from which you can select your physicians.

Understanding the intense need in healthcare, ShiftWise is dedicated to helping support your total staffing needs, including sourcing locum tenens in whatever specialty you need, at the rates you need. From our VMS platform, we help you increase your hiring visibility and control your costs, all while ensuring you received the best talent available to staff your hospitals.

Your reliance on locum tenens physicians isn’t going to decrease any time soon. As the population continues to need physicians in growing numbers and you plan for the unexpected, ShiftWise has your back. Call us today to learn how we can make your hiring fast easier than ever, cutting costs and improving visibility throughout your organization.


Staff Care, Inc. 2017 Survey of Temporary Physician Staffing Trends. 2017

Mann, Sarah; Research Shows Shortage of More than 100,000 Doctors by 2030; AAMC News; March 2017

U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services (HRSA); Projecting the Supply and Demand for Primary Care Practitioners Through 2020; November 2013

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