Local Demand Soars for Temporary Nurse Practitioners and Physician Assistants

The demand for temporary nurse practitioners (NPs) and physician assistants (PAs) in Dallas-Fort Worth has shot up by nearly 75 percent since January, according to Irving-based Staff Care.

Nationally, about 1 out of 10 staffing requests from hospitals and clinics in 2012 were for NPs or PAs, compared with 2 percent in 2010.

Staff Care is a leading staffing firm that provides temporary physicians and allied healthcare professionals to hospitals, medical groups, government facilities and other healthcare organizations.

Bonnie Owens, Staff Care senior vice president, said the substantial growth in demand for temporary NPs and PAs in DFW reflected a rapid growth in DFW retail healthcare clinics.

Owens said there also has been a spike in demand in nearby North Texas cities such as Wichita Falls, Denton and Temple. She said Staff Care’s business previously was concentrated in rural areas where it was more difficult to recruit providers. Now, she said, demand is widespread and rural areas comprise less than 10 percent of the firm’s business.

Owens said it was the first time in Staff Care’s history that the No. 1 reason for seeking part-time providers was that facilities needed someone to fill in because a physician left. She said that reflected the rapid absorption of physician practices by health systems. Physician turnover is at a record high, according to a survey by Cejka Search and the American Medical Group.

She pointed out that a recent survey by parent firm Merritt Hawkins found that nearly 3 out of 4 new physicians are employed by health facilities rather than establishing a solo practice.

Staff Care estimates the ranks of temporary, or locum tenens, physicians has swelled from 26,000 a decade ago to about 38,000 today. According to a Merritt Hawkins survey for The Physicians Foundation, 6 percent of physicians said they planned to turn to locum tenens in the next three years. If that happens, another 48,000 physicians will join the temporary physician workforce.

Owens said the sharp increase in demand for NPs and PAs also reflects the growing acceptance of their use in primary-care settings. They are also less expensive. Temporary primary-care physicians can cost up to $1500 a day, compared with about $100 an hour for NPs and PAs.

The survey found nearly 3 out of 4 health-facility managers said they used temporary physicians or mid-level clinicians in the last 12 months. Of those, 35 percent has used temporary primary care physicians, 31 percent had used temporary behavioral health professionals, 12 percent had used temporary surgeons, and 10 percent had used temporary PAs or NPs.

Owens said Staff Care has seen strong demand for most categories of clinicians, including hospitalists, emergency-department physicians and surgeons. She said there has been a slackening demand for radiologists and anesthesiologists because of reimbursement cuts. She said anesthesiology, which had the largest demand 10 years ago for Staff Care, is now less than 5 percent of its business.

The survey also revealed that many healthcare facilities are making greater use of telemedicine to extend their clinical workforce.   Nearly half of healthcare facility managers said their facilities used telemedicine into at least one of their departments.    Of those, 42 percent have integrated telemedicine into radiology, 38 percent into behavioral health, and 24 percent into primary care.

Steve Jacob is editor of D Healthcare Daily and author of the new book Health Care in 2020: Where Uncertain Reform, Bad Habits, Too Few Doctors and Skyrocketing Costs Are Taking Us. He can be reached at steve.jacob@dmagazine.com.

Posted in News, Staffing.