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Why teleradiology may be a better option than locum tenens for temporary radiologist staffing

Today, 96% of healthcare facilities use temporary physicians to fill short term staffing needs. When it comes to radiology, many are discovering that teleradiology providers are a better alternative to traditional locum tenens.


When the doctor is away…

First introduced in the early 1970s, locum tenens has become the standard for medical facilities to fill temporary physician staffing gaps. More recently, telemedicine is gaining greater acceptance as an alternative to locums.

Traditional assumptions were that physicians must be physically on site with each patient, making locums the only temporary staffing option. However, today telehealth is enabling efficient, effective remote communications – both patient-to-physician and physician-to-physician. While there will always be a need for medical professionals with boots on the ground, technology is expanding real-time access to specialized expertise.

In no area of practice is this more evident than in radiology. For the vast majority of diagnostic imaging exams, the radiologist is one of the few members of the patient care team that doesn’t need to be physically present. Images, patient history and medical records can be transmitted virtually anywhere in moments, giving the radiologist everything needed to respond with a thorough, accurate and timely diagnosis. Should the ordering physician wish to talk, video conferencing is just a click away.

Notably, interventional procedures necessitate a radiologist on site. For temporary interventional assignments, a locum is still the prescribed option. In virtually all other cases, a temporary staffing plan with a teleradiology practice can provide distinct advantages.

Access a broader pool of expertise

Each locum brings a particular set of expertise, which is fine if those skills align with the typical study mix at your practice. When you partner with a teleradiology practice, your group pulls from a pool of available radiologists, offering a broader set of expertise. If there is some variability in your caseload with regard to modalities or subspecialty reads, teleradiology provides the advantage of greater access to specialized skills.

The benefits of greater access extend beyond a temporary locum assignment. Perhaps an existing or prospective referrer wants to start sending studies that require a particular area of expertise that’s new to your practice. A teleradiology partnership can allow you to more readily accept these requests. Meanwhile, your management team can take the time to assess the potential of this new area and decide if the volume warrants investment in a full-time specialist, or if a partial-equivalent teleradiologist will meet the demand.

Promote quality and consistency

Every medical group has different systems, processes, protocols and personnel. Because of this, there is a learning curve any time you introduce a new person into your organization. Each time a locum enters a new facility the learning curve restarts and just about the time they have discovered how to work together with your staff, it’s time to move on to the next job.

A teleradiology partner integrates into your daily protocols, making for a seamless transition and consistent solution to fill temporary staffing gaps.

Be more responsive in uncertain times

Teleradiology gives your organization greater flexibility to adjust to potential spikes or drops in overall imaging volume, or in order volume within areas of specialization.

Prior to COVID-19, medical imaging volume was growing steadily at a relatively predictable rate. I don’t think anyone will ever take market predictability for granted again. Imaging order volumes are likely to continue to fluctuate in the near term and over the long term, as hospitals balance pandemic response efforts with elective and non-emergent procedures.

Reduce risk through safe distancing

In an effort to minimize personal contact, the pandemic has many medical facilities rethinking policies regarding the number of on-site staff. Using a teleradiology provider can help reduce the number of on-site personnel and the associated risks, without compromising care quality.

One positive outcome of COVID-19 is that doctors and patients are increasingly recognizing and accepting the benefits of telehealth solutions as safe, effective methods of care delivery.

Maintain budget control

In general, the fixed daily cost of an on-site locum tenens radiologist is $2,300, plus travel, lodging and placement fees – regardless of the number of billable studies the locum performs during the assignment. So, if the actual volume during a locum’s assignment turns out to be 75% of a projected full-timer, the practice will need to compensate the locum for the difference out-of-pocket.

Teleradiology provides the distinct advantage of a variable cost structure – charging only for each study ordered and completed. Per-study rates may vary by modality or area of specialty, but each study is assigned to a specific billable case, protecting the practice from a potential lull in volume. For additional potential cost savings, a teleradiologist does not incur travel, lodging and placement expenses.

Graphic_Locums_Benefit_Drawback

 

Conclusion

Every practice is different and there are many variables to consider for each temporary opening:

  • Does the assignment include interventional procedures? If not, it can be covered remotely.
  • Will this be a recurring need such as vacation coverage throughout the year?
  • What expertise is needed with regard to modalities or subspecialties?
  • How competitive is the market for available radiologists?
  • What might be the revenue impact of not filling a temporary vacancy?
  • How do ordering physicians and staff feel about locums?

Ultimately, the right solution for temporary contract radiologists depends on the unique needs of your practice. Consider that a combination of both teleradiology and locum tenens may be your best solution.

I encourage you to connect with a vRad representative who can lead you through a no-obligation assessment of your requirements and help you plan the best course of action.

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Author Nina Geatrakas, MD

Medical Director, vRad. Vascular Interventional Fellowship, University of California, Irvine; Musculoskeletal Radiology Fellowship, Hospital for Special Surgery, New York. Dr. Geatrakas sees her role as a clinical bridge between our radiologist practice, systems and operations, and clients. With a focus on patient well-being, she is committed to continuous vRad system growth, development and improvement. She takes pride in the excellent level of diagnostic insights we provide from the cloud, and the breadth of patients we help care for through partner facilities across the country.

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