Physician shortages are on the rise, impacting healthcare institutions and the quality of care they provide. At the same time, physicians are seeking alternatives to ever-demanding work schedules that lead to career dissatisfaction. What emerging solutions are on the rise to meet increasing healthcare demand while ensuring quality care?

How severe is the physician shortage?

According to the American Association of American Medical Colleges, a shortage of nearly 120,000 doctors is expected by the year 2030. Primary care physicians top the list of most needed physicians (up to 49,300 open positions), followed by surgical specialists (over 30,000 positions).

The aging population is the primary reason for physicians shortage. National initiatives to increase care for uninsured and rural residents in the US will have a positive impact on communities, but may play a role in the shortage in the coming years.

Physician retirement is also a contributing factor. It is estimated that one third of all currently practicing physicians will be over the age of 65 within 10 years and leaving the industry.

Geographic location is another consideration for the shortage. Fewer medical students are choosing to become family practitioners despite it being the specialty that serves most patients. In rural areas, family physicians see up to 42% of all patients.

Job Satisfaction is Taking a Major Hit

As if the retirement factor weren’t enough, now add in the additional pressures in an already stressful profession. The burnout struggle is real, and the influx of new practitioners has been deterred due to drops in job satisfaction. With the increasing trend of patients doing self-diagnosis and an increase in litigation, physicians and advanced practice practitioners are having to face even greater barriers.

As impactful as technology can be, patient-led Google searches are taking a toll on the health of patient-practitioner relationships. This is leading to increased loss of job satisfaction from physicians struggling to adapt to the technological changes. (C’mon Siri, I thought we were friends!?!)

Furthermore, a study conducted by Stanford University Professor David Studdert revealed that 92% of physicians were found to be ordering image tests and diagnostic measures for assurance and 42% were eliminating high-risk procedures and avoiding patients with complications for fear of litigation.

The Need for Locum Tenens

Locum Tenens practitioners go by many names – temporary staff, coverage doctors, outsourced doctors, back-up physicians or practitioners – but by definition, they are a staff member who temporarily takes the place of another.

What’s important to note is that as shortages continue to grow across all health care professions, this definition is growing to encompass more practices within medicine.

Under the current definition, Locum Tenens practitioners allow a physician (or other healthcare provider) to excuse themselves from practice to perform other tasks, such as additional certification(s), training and educational conferences, or other planned and unplanned situations like an illness or maternity leave.

Locum Tenens practitioners fall into into three categories:

  • 20 percent of the physicians are coming directly from their residency training program

  • 70 percent are working as Locum Tenens practitioners with the intent of easing into retirement

  • 10 percent are transitioning their career from one practice type to another

Locum Tenens frees physicians from the expense medical practice expenses, paying significant medical malpractice premiums, EMR investments, and related costs. It may also provide more work-life balance and avoid potential burnout from a high-stress career.

Medical Staff Services Professionals help to hire Locum Tenens Physicians

The physician shortage means more hospitals are seeking the assistance of the Medical Staff Professional (MSP) as a resource to search and vet qualified Locum Tenens staffing agencies to fill physician vacancies.

It is critical that the MSP, recruiter and the staffing agency work collaboratively to quickly identify, credential and orient the Locum Tenens practitioner. Filling the position by the needed start date, meeting established Medical Staff criteria, maintaining quality standards, and performing appropriate credentialing verifications must all me done in a consistent way within a short time period.

What’s the catch?

Healthcare facilities must ensure proper credentialing and privileging practices for all practitioners, including Locum Tenens physicians, which may add an extra layer of administrative work if the right systems are not in place.

A second challenge can be billing for Locum Tenens services, which is handled by the healthcare facility or hospital receiving services. Payment is considered per diem and in order to get to the MSP, must go through the regular practitioner that was replaced by the Locum Tenens practitioner.

Medicare follows the same billing procedures as well. However, if the practitioner has left their position, a temporary replacement practitioner may bill for the locum tenens practitioner by entering item 24d of Form CMS – 1500 the HCPCS modifier Q6. (Get the details on this procedure here.)

It’s important to keep in mind that some practices may have their own criteria for CMS. For example, Locum Tenens nurse practitioners do not follow the same Medicare rules and are unique to the state where they serve.

To maintain high quality healthcare delivery, credentialing and privileging, and billing for services, healthcare institutions must have consistent processes in place to follow proper financial and regulatory practices.

Ready to learn more?

If you’d like more information about the shortage of physicians and how Locum Tenens are providing a solution, listen to our symplr education series webcast titled, Introduction: Locum Tenens with guests Donna Goestenkors and Susan Collier. For more information about using symplr payor enrollment solutions and services to accelerate enrollment, Schedule a Demo with symplr today!

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