Use of locum tenens physicians reached a new high in 2016, according to an annual survey by Staff Care, a health care staffing company.

Last year, 94% of hospitals, medical groups, and other health care facilities reported using temporary physicians, compared with 91% in 2014, which was the previous high, Staff Care reported in its “2017 Survey of Temporary Physician Staffing Trends.”

The roughly 48,000 physicians who did temporary work in 2016 “are emerging as a key part of the medical workforce in an era of physician shortages and evolving delivery models” said Sean Ebner, president of Staff Care. In 2002, about 26,000 physicians did locum tenens work.

Primary care physicians (family physicians, internists, and pediatricians) were the leading locum tenens choice by specialty, with 45% of health care facilities reporting their use in 2016. Hospitalists were the next most popular specialists at 25%, followed by behavioral health professionals (23%), emergency physicians (17%), and nurse practitioners (16%), according to survey responses from 206 administrators of health care facilities.

Since about one-third of U.S. physicians practice primary care, “it is not particularly surprising that they are more utilized as locum tenens,” the report noted, but “only about 3.5% of all physicians are psychiatrists, [so] the fact that behavioral health professionals are the third most utilized type of locum tenens provider underlines the acute shortage of providers in this field.”


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