Back in the 1980s, the idea of being a locum physician was not all that popular. It was just assumed back then that locums were stuck in that sort of employment because they either could not get along well with others or they lacked the skills to be private practice owners or hospitalists. Things have changed a lot over the last 30 years. Not only is locum tenens work mainstream in 2017 but it’s also gaining popularity among doctors of all ages.
Local staffing specialist Tiva Healthcare says that there are a number of factors fueling the growth in locum physician jobs. Some doctors are transitioning to locum work simply because they are tired of the hassles of owning a private practice. Still others have worked as employed physicians and now want to try something new. One of the biggest factors though, is increased consolidation.
Medical consolidation was big during the last two decades of the 1900s, but then healthcare groups began selling off their practices at the turn of the century when they figured out they actually lose money on primary care. Now the tide has turned again. Consolidation is rapidly increasing as healthcare groups have discovered they can use primary care as a lead-in to more costly hospital care. This is causing a growth in locum physician staffing as well.
Still Not a Moneymaker
Despite medical industry consolidation coming back, healthcare groups still know that primary care is not a moneymaking proposition. Some groups make minimal profits on primary care; most groups lose money on the service. Both are willing to take the risk because doctors employed by group practices refer their patients to affiliated hospitals for everything from blood tests to surgery. Those are the moneymaking opportunities healthcare groups are looking for.
Knowing this, healthcare groups have to look at physician staffing from a business cost perspective. Unfortunately, this makes primary care the medical equivalent of fast food. Fast food workers are paid a minimum wage in order to keep employment costs from overwhelming profit margins. Healthcare facilities have that same mentality when hiring primary care physicians.
As referenced by a September 27 Pharmacy Times article, primary care physicians are among the lowest paid doctors in the country. Their average salary now stands at about $200,000 as opposed to twice that amount for an orthopedic physician. It turns out that doctors are not necessarily willing to work for that kind of money.
Locum Tenens the Answer
What many doctors are discovering is that locum tenens work is the answer to the low salary problems plaguing primary care physicians. Locums tend to earn significantly more than their employed counterparts just in terms of straight salary alone. But there are other benefits.
For example, it is now commonplace for staffing agencies to cover medical malpractice insurance on behalf of doctors. That’s one expense the locum does not have to pay as compared to a private practice doctor. Furthermore, locum physicians usually don’t pay their own travel and housing costs. If a doctor wanted to, he or she would not even have to maintain a permanent home somewhere. That translates into more money in the pocket.
Consolidation within the medical industry is the reality of modern life. That is not about to change with the new focus on outcome-based medicine under which facilities have to provide better care at more competitive prices. This suggests that demand for locum physicians is only going to increase in the coming years, especially in primary care. History may eventually prove that this is one time where consolidation actually benefits the consumer.