Hospitals, medical groups, clinics and other healthcare facilities spent an estimated $2.08 billion on temporary physician services in 2002, compared to $479 million in 1997, according to a new market analysis from Staff Care and Med Travelers, healthcare staffing firms based in Irving, Texas.
The report finds that the locum tenens, or temporary, staffing industry saw increases between 31% to 54% each year from 1997 and 2001, with spending slowing to a "more reasonable" growth level of 8% in 2002.
"The industry is experiencing a noticeable shift in the use of temporary physicians and providers, from short-term 'plug the gap' coverage to long-term strategic coverage," the report says.
Last year, the report says, almost 28,000 physicians practiced on a temporary basis, a 4% increase over 2001. More than two opportunities exist for each locum tenens doctor.
Additionally, traveling imaging technologists filled an average of about 5,000 vacant shifts per day, and about 12% of all certified registered nurse anesthetists chose to do interim work.
As late as 1998, half of all searches for temporary physicians were for primary care doctors, the report says. Since the mid-1990s, demand for locum tenens physicians has expanded into specialties such as radiology, anesthesiology, psychiatry, orthopedic surgery, ophthalmology, dermatology, neurology and other specialties.
Staffing imbalances and shortages often are reflected in the temporary world before they are recognized in the general healthcare industry, the report says.
One example cited is psychiatry and child psychiatry, which accounted for 6% of all locum tenens searches in 1999 and 17% in 2002. Meanwhile, radiology represented 3% of the demand for temporary physicians in 1997 and 16% of the demand by 2001.