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The odds are increasing that you have either worked with a part-time or "temp" physician or are even considering becoming one yourself. "We are seeing more younger doctors and residents become locum tenens. It is not just for older or retired doctors any more, although doctors ages 45 to 60 still represent the largest group," says Dustin Koger, vice president of operations at Staff Care, an Irving, TX-based medical placement service.
The benefits of becoming a locum tenens doctor are obvious: freedom from much of the paperwork and regulatory and financial hassles that come with practicing medicine in today’s reimbursement environment. In fact, one survey by Staff Care found that 15% of all physicians now work as locum tenens at some point during their career, compared with just 4% in 1987.
The American Medical Association says the number of semiretired doctors increased from 1.1% of all physicians (5,908) in 1985 to 1.7% (13,585) in 1999. Inactive doctors, which includes those who are part-time, semi-retired, and retired, increased to 9.5% in 1999 from 7% in 1985.
Demand for locum tenens physicians is highest in anesthesiology, radiology, cardiology, pulmonology, psychiatry, and other specialties. Locum tenens fees for anesthesiologists grew 31% between February 1998 and June 1999, while cardiology fees jumped 30% and radiology fees increased 16%, says Staff Care. However, primary care physician fees only increased by an average of 3%.
Over the past year, top temp day rates have jumped 30% to $600-$900 for cardiologists, $600-$700 for gastroenterologists, and $900-$1,200 for radiologists. Primary care physicians earn an average of $400 per day. Some 70% of the locum tenens fee goes to the physician as salary. Meanwhile, the locum tenens placement firm usually provides necessary malpractice insurance, licensing assistance, travel expenses, and other administrative costs.
According to the American Medical Association, the most popular type of temp physician arrangements are to fill new permanent jobs until a permanent candidate is chosen. Some physician staffing firms even offer specialized programs in which they recruit providers to serve as locum tenens as a way to "try out" for a permanent job opening.
Managed care has made use of locum tenens, or temporary physician staffing, a much more popular option when it comes to practice staffing strategies. The Latin term "locum tenens" means "one holding a place." Most providers contact locum tenens placement firms to fill temporary voids when regular physicians are going to be gone for an extended period due to vacation, medical conferences, or training sessions. Others often hire a locum tenens physician when they need to beef up their staffing during a busy time of the year, such as during flu season.
Some things to consider when retaining a physician placement service include:
• Background checks. The locum tenens firm you hire should be able to perform a thorough background check on all potential candidates it represents.
• Follow-up service. It is important that your locum tenens firm be willing to stay in contact and available to help resolve any conflicts that might arise with the temp physician. Some firms, for instance, guarantee placements and will provide another candidate should your initial choice not work out.
• References. Ask the agency for a current and past clients list so you can ask other practices how they felt about their experience with the firm.