Locum Tenens: Benefits Outweigh Costs in Today’s Healthcare Environment


Maintaining highly qualified physician staffing levels is difficult in today’s healthcare environment, to say the least. Regardless of where you look in the United States, physician shortages and long recruitment cycles are becoming commonplace. In fact, it can take up to a full year to hire a qualified staff physician internally – in some cases even longer if your facility needs in-demand specialists, like radiologists or OB/GYNs. These gaps in coverage can wreak havoc on your practice or facility , just a few examples of how include operating suite closures, increased account receivable collections times, billing mistakes, decreased patient satisfaction, staff burn-out, and more.

Using Locum Tenens Staff

To solve these problems, administrators and practice owners are turning to locum tenens physicians. “Locum Tenens” is Latin for “holding one’s place”, and has the potential to solve many of problems hospitals face surrounding shortages and recruitment of qualified physicians and specialist. These professionals are licensed and credentialed; up to 85% are even board certified according to the American College of Healthcare Executives. A few other benefits locum tenens physicians can provide include:

  • Filling in for absent staff members on vacation, sabbatical, maternity leave, or out due to illness.
  • Coverage for those attending professional development or CME training elsewhere.
  • Augment existing staff during “peak” seasons.
  • Fill open roles until full-time replacement can be properly screened and recruited.

Proving ROI

Though the use of “locum tenens” has grown in recent years, there is still hesitancy among many hospital and practice executives. The main concern cited among them is cost, averaging anywhere from $900 to upwards of $3500 per day. Anyone charged with the fiscal health of an organization knows these numbers are certainly a cause for concern and further scrutiny.

However, what most don’t realize is that locum tenens can potentially pay for themselves several times over, in most instances. Revenue generated by these temporary professionals is sourced from physician billing and inpatient/outpatient services at affiliate hospitals like ordering diagnostic testing, therapy, and surgery. According to a 2008 MGMA Physician Compensation and Production Survey, professional fees alone can generate up to $3200 per day in revenue otherwise lost due to staffing shortages. This number DOES NOT include inpatient and outpatient services revenue that was generated by those surveyed.

Additional Benefits

As you can see, when examining the data more closely, using locum tenens is likely a smart investment for any facility with physician shortages or lacking internal recruiting teams.  Factor in some of the non-monetary benefits below and the choice becomes a “no-brainer”.

  • Increased patient satisfaction.
  • Referring physician satisfaction and increased referrals.
  • Qualified physician retention rates improve.
  • Up-to-date expertise on latest technology and procedures compared to staff counterparts.

Maximize Potential

Once the decision is made to implement a locum tenens strategy into your overall master staffing plan, there are several steps you can take to maximize its effectiveness.  Below is a quick bullet list of areas to consider:

  • Plan ahead for times of high patient loads or planned staff leaves of absence.
  • Provide on-boarding for your locum tenens staff to maximize their efficiency while practicing.
  • Book each based on the physician’s optimal patient load.
  • Know which billing regulations apply and when.

If you are seriously considering using locum tenens, know that you are no longer in the minority. NALTO estimates that three-quarters of hospitals now use locum tens physicians for staff augmentation and the locum tenens industry currently generates more than $1.9 billion annually. If you are considering using locum tenens, talk to one of our account managers here at MPLT Healthcare. We can provide you with the right staff at exactly the right time.