Last year, HM firm Sound Physicians launched its own locum tenens staffing affiliate, Echo Locum Tenens in Dallas, to help fill vacancies across its national platform. Shortly thereafter, research came out that showed HM is the fastest-growing segment of the locum field, as measured by revenue generation. So is do-it-yourself locum tenens an economically viable approach for hospitalist programs?
The answer is: not likely.
Tony Gregoire, senior research analyst with research firm Staffing Industry Analysts, says that the temptation to rush into a quickly growing field is natural, but it could be self-defeating. Gregoire’s firm conducts a twice-a-year survey in conjunction with the National Association of Locum Tenens Organizations (NALTO). The analysis of the first six months of 2011 showed a 34% jump in the in revenue locum agencies generated by placing hospitalists compared with the first half of 2010. “One thing to keep in mind is the market might be growing by 34%, but you have to keep in mind the number of entrants, too,” Gregoire says, adding more colorfully that if “the pie gets twice as big, but you have twice as many people , the piece doesn’t get any bigger.”
So why did Sound Physicians launch its own staffing entity?
“There are certain quality doctors in the locums pool, but I would say the accountability of the staffing person at another firm is not the same accountability we hold our people to,” says Robert Bessler, MD, the firm’s president and chief executive. “These guys have to work with us again tomorrow and the next day, so the doctors they present to our chief medical officers have to be of the same quality as the people that we are choosing to have as partners and owners in our organization.”
Dr. Bessler encourages any national HM group considering launching its own locum arm to consider the costs and manpower commitments required.
“It’s expensive,” he says. “We’ve got a new team of 23 people to start up the new company, no revenue coming in before you start. And then you have to pay doctors right away. … You need a clear business model.”