Who Are Locum Tenens Providers and What Do They Do?

Oct 21, 2021 | Credentialing, Telehealth, Verisys Blog

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Locum tenens is Latin for placeholder. A locum tenens physician takes the place of a provider when they are absent — a substitute.

In the early 1970s, a federal grant was awarded to the University of Utah for the purpose of providing physician staffing services to rural health clinics in medically underserved areas of the western United States.

If a hospital or health clinic did not have a specialty surgeon or provider on staff, they could bring on a locum tenens provider for that specific surgery or service. The program proved so successful that many hospital administrators and physicians began calling for locum tenens physician staffing assistance.

Today, thousands of physicians, CRNAs, PAs, and NPs contract with locum tenens staffing companies that provide physician staffing services for hospitals, outpatient medical centers, government and military facilities, group practices, community health centers, and correctional facilities. Each year, this industry continues to grow as more and more physicians and advanced practice providers choose to practice medicine as locum tenens.

Locum Tenens and Telemedicine

Telemedicine technology has changed the landscape of healthcare forever. The impacts of technology on healthcare are often thought of as advances in areas such as robotics or immunotherapy, but new technology has also affected how healthcare is administered.

A Deloitte analysis defined today’s healthcare innovations as “‘more for less — more value, better outcomes, greater convenience, access, and simplicity; all for less cost, complexity, and time required by the patient and the provider, in a way that expands what is currently possible.”

By utilizing telehealth, telemedicine, and locum tenens physician staffing to administer healthcare services, access and value are increased, all at equal or less cost to those being served.

Why do physicians choose locum tenens work?

The gig economy isn’t just Uber drivers or freelance creatives — a Forbes article from 2019 calls freelancing in the healthcare industry “doctors on demand.” It reports that 94 percent of healthcare managers have worked with freelance, or locum tenens, doctors in the last year.

“Based on an estimated physician population of one million, 5 to 10 percent of U.S. physicians are now working as freelance doctors.”

More physicians are choosing locum tenens work instead of a traditional schedule because of the flexibility it can provide. Gallup found that 36 percent of U.S. workers have gig work in some capacity and that 64 percent of those gig workers are doing their preferred type of work.

Some physicians who act as locum tenens providers may take that work on top of their regular job for extra cash. Or they may build their career by jumping from one locum tenens position to the next.

Reasons for choosing locum tenens work include:

  • Flexibility and freedom to choose to work as much (or as little) as desired
  • Nationwide employment opportunities with vacancies in cities across the country (sites such as Gaswork provide resources on available locum opportunities in every state)
  • Global opportunities in countries such as Australia, New Zealand, Guam, Ireland, and Canada
  • Higher compensation and pay for contract work
  • Benefits can be chosen by independent contractors
  • Experience in new areas is available in order to transition to a new position or specialty

While there are significant benefits, there are some potential challenges for physicians who may be used to an administrative team’s support. For example, while you can choose your own benefits, you are also responsible for setting them up. Health insurance, life insurance, and disability benefits are the contracting physician’s responsibility. Additionally, there is less consistency and stability for short-term contractors and the individual is responsible for acquiring contracts.

Overall, for independent contractors, while there is more flexibility, independence, and higher compensation, he or she must be prepared to take more responsibility for acquiring and maintaining contracts and work.

Why do healthcare clients use locum tenens physician staffing?

Why would a healthcare client or provider choose a locum tenens physician over a traditional hire? Just like physicians that choose these flexible locum tenens appointments, flexibility is a value-add for hospitals and healthcare administrators as well.

Locum tenens physicians can fill in when hospitals are short-staffed or where there is higher patient demand. Because these physicians often work on short-term contracts, human resource departments may also enjoy the flexibility in their budgets, as they save on healthcare benefit costs for their physicians, 401K matching, salaries, and other expected permanent-hire expenses.

Rural hospitals and healthcare groups may have a difficult time attracting full-time physicians, but locum tenens physicians may be more willing to work in rural areas with underserved populations for short-term contract lengths. A great advantage of today’s flexible workplace innovations like locum tenens positions or telehealth and telemedicine is the ability to serve and provide access to rural and traditionally underserved communities.

Credentialing Locum Tenens Providers

Hospitals and health clinics have a vast network of providers and moving parts, so keeping compliant is crucial to quality care and patient safety. At the same time, slow and inefficient credentialing processes make it more difficult for locum tenens to onboard and begin seeing patients.

The lengthy and cumbersome process has often impeded locum tenens’ work in the past; however, new technology is helping facilitate the credentialing process for locum tenens doctors. It’s no longer necessary to go through the entire primary source verification process for a locum tenens or telehealth provider if the originating hospital has already done this credentialing work.

Credentialing by proxy and outsourcing credentialing to qualified organizations have sped up the process effectively and accurately. Organizations can now credential locum tenens in a matter of days instead of weeks or months, which gets them seeing patients quickly.

Verisys, a credentials verification organization, works with healthcare organizations to accurately and quickly credential locum tenens physicians and other telehealth professionals. Compliance is crucial to locum tenens work, as hospitals are at risk for exposure to fraud, abuse, and bad actors in the healthcare system. Mitigating risk is a crucial part of a hospital’s mission of providing quality, affordable care to patients while maintaining a stellar reputation in the community.

By offering end-to-end credentialing solutions for locum tenens physicians and providers, that all-important work flexibility is enabled, while also ensuring patient safety and trust.

Verisys can eliminate the guesswork, help avoid steep fines or lawsuits, and ensure patient safety truly comes first by credentialing an organization’s locum tenens. Reach out today to learn more.


Juliette Willard Written by Juliette Willard
Healthcare Communications Specialist
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