Can Locum Tenens Be a High-Paying Career?

Morgan Lewis, Jr.

Disclosures

August 30, 2012

In This Article

Why Locum Work Is Getting Easier

In the coming era of ACOs and highly integrated organizations, demand for locum tenens will continue to increase, says Jason Hwang, MD, a former locum internal medicine physician and now president of Innosight Institute, a healthcare think tank. ACO models rely on care coordination, technology, and a team-based approach to reduce costs and earn compensation. In these organizations, locum tenens physicians who are familiar with the system and technology will be considered a team member, ensuring that continuity of care isn't broken.

"Locums could come in and not have to encounter anything new, because you would already have everything automated and monitored," says Hwang, who recently completed a study on highly integrated health organizations. "That is the future world, where physicians are largely interchangeable because all of the back end is automated -- but we're not there yet."

What's Needed to Succeed as a Locum Tenens

Whether the locum tenens assignment is with a highly integrated health system or smaller group practice, succeeding as a temporary physician requires "the ability to adapt to unfamiliar physical circumstances; different habits of patient care; and perhaps most important, the ability to subordinate one's ego," Duane Gainsburg says.

Gainsburg, who managed a solo urban practice for 14 years before becoming a locum tenens, says the larger institutions he has practiced in as a temporary doctor typically have more robust EHR systems and more input from medical and support staffs. He doesn't have a preference in regard to size or type of organization for an assignment, "as long as the level of care is high and the working relationships with medical and nursing staff are efficient and respectful," he says.

"You have to be a team player and understand that each assignment will have a different set of rules," says William Gruss. "Hospitals will vary in size, volume, payer mix, specialty backup, and procedures performed. Good medical as well as informational technology skills are becoming a must."

EHR system competency is indeed a skill required for locum tenens physicians, says Jason Daeffler, marketing director for locum tenens staffing firm Barton Associates, and will be more so in the coming years.

"A locum has to step in and be productive right away, so knowing many EHR systems is something that's going to be important," he says. "Our firm is looking into how we can enhance that type of training for some of the physicians we work with."

Gruss has practiced on several EHR systems, each with its own particular advantages and drawbacks. Overall, he says the technology saves time in the inpatient setting, but "coordinating the outpatient information can sometimes be more tedious."

"Sometimes, a department such as radiology or the emergency department may use a different system," he says. "The sharing of information takes extra time, but there does appear to be attempts to bridge the gaps more efficiently."

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