Certain specialist shortages have caused healthcare organizations to shell out more than four times what they spent in 1997 to pay for temporary physician staffing, according to a Staff Care report to be released in May.
"2003 Review of Temporary Healthcare Staffing Trends and Initiatives" will show spending on locum tenens, or temporary, doctors grew to $2.08 billion in 2002 from $479 million in 1997, say researchers at Staff Care, the temporary branch of recruiting firm Merritt Hawkins & Associates, based in Irving, Texas.
Shortages in specialties like anesthesiology and radiology are driving the demand for temporary services, says StaffCare spokesperson Dave Faries, and daily fees for those services also are rising. Facilities paid an average day rate for temporary anesthesiologists of $850 in 1998. In 2002, that rate grew to $1,825. Spending per day for temporary radiologists grew from $950 in 1998 to $1,600 in 2001 and $2,000 in 2002.
The report analyzes survey responses from 1,154 healthcare administrators and 1,302 physicians to estimate expenditures for temporary recruitment and payment.
Faries says the increased demand is based on several factors.
"Part is obviously the shortage in certain specialties, part is changing demographics--an aging population--and part is new technologies, a greater demand for imaging, for example," he says.
"A lot of it is awareness as well," Faries continues. "Also, malpractice insurance premium increases in just the past two years has driven demand. Some doctors have fled states where it is so bad, like in West Virginia. Other doctors are cutting back on certain high-risk services."
Michael Weinholtz, CEO of CompHealth, a competing locum tenens staffing firm based in Salt Lake City, agrees that the use of temporary physicians is booming.
"CompHealth has seen the locum tenens industry grow steadily for the last 20 years," Weinholtz says. "It started by providing staffing coverage for planned absences of physicians for vacations, education, maternity leave and sabbaticals. But is has accelerated in recent years due to shortages in certain specialties.
"Even more so, the growth is due to increased demand for services as the expansion of the healthcare industry creates more staffing vacancies in the resulting staff expansion and turnover."
Both firms agree that anesthesiology, radiology, psychiatry and surgery are the most sought-after specialties, with varying demand among geographic areas.