Do an internet search on reasons doctors choose to embrace locum tenens work and you are likely to read a lot about travel, scheduling, etc. All those things do contribute to the popularity of locum work. Yet there is more to it than that. The 2018 Merritt Hawkins physician survey shows there are other critical factors affecting how doctors work.
An addendum to the biannual survey asked more than 9,000 doctors detailed questions about their current satisfaction with medicine. One particular question asked respondents to name the two factors about medical practice they find least satisfying. Among the top six responses are three that may explain the attraction of locum tenens to more and more doctors.
Those three responses are explained in greater detail below. But before getting to them, we need to discuss the answers to the first question in this particular section of the survey. The question asked, “what is your current professional status?” Here are the responses:
- Practice owner, partner, or associate – 34%
- Employed by a hospital – 19.1%
- Employed by a hospital-owned medical group – 17.4%
- Employed by a physician-owned medical group – 12.6%
- Other – 19.6%.
It should be clear locum tenens work falls under the ‘other’ category. Keep that in the back of your mind as you read the three factors that may contribute to the attraction of locum tenens listed below.
1. EHR Design and Interoperability
As surprising as it might sound, the least satisfying part of modern medicine to doctors are electronic health records (EHR). As you know, the EHR system was thrust upon America’s healthcare industry nearly a decade ago. Despite having so much time to work on it though, many doctors think things are not where they need to be. Doctors now spend an inordinate amount of time dealing with health records – time that would have been spent with patients in the past.
Locum doctors still have to deal with electronic health records, but they don’t have nearly the same level of responsibility as private practice owners and employed physicians. They spend a lot less time dealing with EHRs.
2. Loss of Clinical Autonomy
Doctors being unhappy about the loss of clinical autonomy is not unexpected. Private practice owners feel as though much of their autonomy has been turned over to insurance companies and government regulators. Many of them feel like they are slaves to data and how that data is interpreted by non-medical decision-makers.
Once again, locums have an advantage. Because they are only temporary contract workers, they have fewer concerns about the business side of medicine. They are able to practice as they see fit for the most part. And even in restrictive environments, they have the luxury of knowing that the contract will end at some point in the near future.
3. Professional Liability and Malpractice
This third answer is somewhat surprising given that doctors have always had to deal with medical malpractice and its associated insurance issues. Professional liability and malpractice are things that locums have to deal with, but there is one stark difference: staffing agencies are increasingly offering to pay for medical malpractice insurance.
Locum tenens doctors still have to practice a measure of self-protection in order to avoid expensive lawsuits, but at least they are not bearing the entire cost of insurance on their own. Many do not pay a penny toward their own insurance.
It is clear that locum tenens work is attractive to a growing number of doctors. Perhaps the three reasons explored here shed some light on why that is so.