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Recruitment demand high for primary care doctors

The recruitment demand for specialists such as radiologists and cardiologists has waned in favor of primary care physicians, reports a physician recruitment review by national healthcare search and consulting firm, Merritt Hawkins, an AMN Healthcare company.

In 2010-2011, family practice and general internal medicine physicians were the two top most requested physician search assignments for the sixth year in a row, Merritt Hawkins reported.

Merritt Hawkins’ report is based on 2,667 permanent physician and advanced allied professional search assignments that it and AMN’s physician staffing companies conducted from April 2010 to March 2011.

Radiologists, cardiologists and anesthesiologists – formerly the top requested search assignments – have dropped to 17th, 18th and 19th place, respectively. Part of the decline for these specialists is attributed to reimbursement cuts and a reduction in elective procedures, the report noted.

Need is driving the demand for primary care physicians, said Travis Singleton, senior vice president of Merritt Hawkins. “In the drive to ‘have a seat at the table’ in tomorrow’s healthcare delivery system,” he said, “many groups have rushed to form patient-centered medical homes, ACOs, employment models, etcetera. This has bolstered the attention to primary care because primary care serves as the foundation for these emerging delivery systems.”

Demand is also strong because of the shortage of primary care physicians in the face of a potential addition of 32 million uninsured becoming insured under healthcare reform.

[See also: Physician turnover rate on the rise.]

To entice physicians of all stripes, healthcare organizations continue to offer signing bonuses and relocation and continuing medical education allowances in recruitment packages. New to the recruitment offerings is a housing allowance.

Offering housing allowances is just one of the ways healthcare organizations have had to get creative to attract physicians, said Singleton. “Whether it is signing bonuses, housing bonuses, on-call pay, stipends, etcetera … groups will do what they have to in order to attract physicians,” he said.

Housing allowances are on offer because in this rough economy doctors are having trouble selling their homes. The housing allowance offer may be a temporary trend, said Singleton, that could go away if or when the housing market rebounds.

Merritt Hawkins’ review found that 74 percent of search assignments offered potential recruits a salary with production bonus. More than half of the production bonuses are based on volume.

While incentives are still volume-based, Singleton said he anticipates more production bonuses will move toward the quality metrics encouraged by healthcare reform, however, he is not sure if value-based compensation will become the national standard.

“Quality is hard to measure, and when it comes time to benefit from shared savings, it is hard to calibrate how to reward the family physicians versus the cardiologist versus the anesthesiologist, etcetera. So the jury is still out,” he said. “Quality may be the payment system of tomorrow, but it is not the system of today.”

Follow HFN associate editor Stephanie Bouchard on Twitter @SBouchardHFN.

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