Hospital finances have improved to the point where they can afford to have staffing firms fill empty doctor slots, experts say. And with more insured patients walking through the door expecting access to doctors, providers can't afford to be understaffed.
Staffing firms that furnish providers with locum tenens physicians will see a 7% to 9% uptick in growth over the next three to five years, said A.J. Rice, managing director at UBS, a New York-based investment research firm. Staffing firms that can supply a pipeline of psychiatrists will experience growth because the ACA and recent federal rules on coverage parity for mental health services have expanded behavioral-care access for millions of Americans.
Staffing firms are implementing programs to maximize growth opportunities. AMN Healthcare, whose subsidiary Staff Care recruits locum tenens physicians, has rolled out a locum tenens managed-services provider program that takes responsibility for all temporary staffing functions for hospitals, said Phillip Miller, a spokesman for Staff Care.
The use of locum tenens physicians by providers has soared over the past three years. According to Staff Care's 2015 Survey of Temporary Physician Staffing Trends, 91% of healthcare facility managers used locum tenens physicians in 2014, up from 73% in 2012.
Primary-care doctors are in the greatest demand, according to the survey. In 2014, 24% of healthcare facilities requested primary-care doctors, while 15% requested behavioral health doctors.
The percentage of behavioral-health requests dropped 7% in 2014 compared with 2010 because behavioral health isn't seen by providers as lucrative, Miller said. Most of Staff Care's behavioral-health business comes from government-run facilities, he added.
More urgent-care facilities, retail clinics and surgery centers are seeking temporary physicians, Miller said. He added that the Veterans Health Administration also is requesting locum tenens physicians because recent patient access reforms have required VA facilities to increase physician staffing.
Having enough doctors is key because they control patient flow and revenue. “He who dies with the most doctors wins,” Miller quipped.