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Locum Tenens Provides a Strategic, Cost-effective Solution As Physician Shortage Intensifies

Multiple Factors Contribute to Difficulty in Recruiting Quality Physicians, Industry Founder Details How Locum Tenens Coverage Can Help
Salt Lake City, UtahMay 26, 2006 In urban and rural communities across the country, the realities of an intensifying physician shortage are significantly impacting access to quality patient care. Healthcare facilities of all sizes compete for the same limited supply of qualified physicians, putting a great deal of pressure on recruitment departments. Therus C. Kolff, MD, MPH, is founder of the locum tenens, or temporary physician, industry and chairman of the board for VISTA Staffing Solutions, discussed these challenges recently with hospital CEOs as a featured speaker at Community Health Systems' 2006 Physician Recruiting Seminar, May 25 and 26, in Cool Springs, TN. He reported that locum tenens staffing firms are poised to fill the gap and offer a viable and cost-effective solution to communities that are scrambling to meet the growing demand for physicians.

For many years, Kolff says, organizations in other industries have utilized a contingent workforce as a sound business strategy, ranging from 9 percent in the manufacturing industry to 3 percent in service and retail companies. "Today, smart healthcare organizations are likewise seeing the tremendous value of a contingent, or locum tenens, workforce." He explains, "Physicians are not only primary healthcare providers, they are also revenue generators. When healthcare facilities are short-staffed, fewer patients are seen and less income is generated. Temporary physicians help hospitals and physician practice groups meet increasing demands for care, maintain patient satisfaction and keep referral systems intact, and they ensure a continued revenue stream."

For example, in 2004, a major national healthcare organization conducted a cost analysis of 330 days of locum tenens coverage. Temporary physicians generated $1,745,996 in billable revenue at the cost of $522,855 for their services, which added $523,799 to the hospital's income. Going without physician coverage during this same period would have resulted in zero billings.

Acknowledging that the physician shortage is "only going to get worse," Kolff cites the following contributing factors:
* The number of medical school graduates is not keeping up with U.S. population growth. * The majority of physicians are choosing to practice in metro areas, 88 percent from 1991 to 2001, causing a maldistribution and leaving rural areas underserved. * The increasing cost of malpractice insurance is causing doctors to leave "in crisis" states. * A large number of "Baby Boomer" doctors are reaching retirement age at the same time that their patients are seeking out more medical care than any previous generation. * Women now make up more than half of all medical school applicants and are more likely to expect flexible work options and fewer working hours. * Doctors of both genders insist upon a better work-life balance than their predecessors did. * International medical graduates, who constitute 30+ percent of the total number of doctors in the United States, are under increasing immigration and temporary worker constraints, which inhibits their ability to augment the physician workforce.
Since Kolff founded the locum tenens industry in 1979, the number of physicians who practice as locum tenens at some point in their careers has increased from 4 to 20 percent. Most consider temporary assignments at three distinct stages: 1) as young physicians just out of residency, 2) at mid-career as a result of practice or career changes, and 3) as they approach retirement.

As more physicians choose a locum tenens practice, the overall "reputation" of the industry has also improved. Healthcare administrators used to worry about a temporary physician's qualifications when, in fact, the extensive and continual credentials review that locum tenens undergo makes them among the most investigated doctors anywhere. "We call it life in the fishbowl," Kolff says. "To become a locum tenens physician, you have to be willing to have your credentials checked and rechecked by the staffing firm - and the healthcare facility, every time you go on assignment. Poorly qualified doctors don't tend to welcome that level of scrutiny."

Today, there are more than 28,000 physicians in the United States who are practicing as locum tenens. In increasing numbers, highly-qualified locum tenens are helping to meet the growing need for qualified physicians by serving as a valuable resource during the often-lengthy physician recruitment process, for rural communities that have difficulty attracting permanent physicians, and as medical staffing needs fluctuate.

About VISTA Staffing Solutions
VISTA Staffing Solutions is a leading provider of temporary physician staffing and permanent physician search services. Founded in 1990, the employee-owned company helps hospitals, medical practices and government agencies solve their physician staffing challenges. VISTA is the only agency that offers short- and long-term domestic jobs, international work opportunities, and permanent placement for physicians. The company is a founding member of the National Association of Locum Tenens Organizations (NALTO).

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