Lifestyle of a Semi-Furloughed Teleradiologist: Productivity Without RVUs During COVID-19

April 6, 2020

With working hours cut and imaging volume down, how do you fill the day?

As I mentioned in last week’s column, radiology groups all over the place have had to figure out how to cope with a suddenly choked-off supply of work, and the revenue that comes with it. My group took the path of sharing the pain universally, rather than protecting uppity-ups by dumping everything on those at the bottom of the totem-pole. Everyone had their working (hence, paid) hours scaled back.

Rads, such as myself, thus, found ourselves with an over-abundance of free time. For most practicing docs, this is a perplexing state of affairs. Even working a mere 40 weekly hours would feel, to us, lax as compared with our usual “full-time.” But now, for instance, I have all of 26 hours scheduled to work this week…and 17 of those are because I was already on the calendar to work two weekend-evening shifts.

Longer-term readers of this column might remember that, not all that long ago, I worked for vRad with a typical telerad schedule of seven days (or nights) on, seven off. One might therefore imagine I’d be more adaptable to having no work for days on end.

Funny thing, though: As income from that gig drifted downwards courtesy of diminishing “work-unit” rates and changing case-mix, I gradually took on other income-boosting activities. My “seven days off” evolved into an average of three, and I can tell you that, when you’re essentially working 11 days between three-day weekends, those three days are very easily spent doing as little as humanly possible.

So, I imagine I’m not much different from most other hardworking rads in terms of how I conceive of free time, what I dream I’d do with it if I had any…or how much I actually accomplish when it turns up. One thing I learned during my previous “7 on-7 off” lifestyle was that, if you don’t want your free time to magically vanish without leaving any productive accomplishments in its wake…you’d better make specific plans for those precious hours before they’re upon you.

Learning something, and actually acting on the wisdom, are different things. A journal of my first furloughed Monday, for instance, would not be something I’d proudly put forth for public consumption. I tried catching up on some CME, but my main source’s website was acting hinky. So, that went nowhere. I had much better luck catching up with stuff on my DVR.

That CME did eventually happen, as did this blog entry; usually the latter gets written during the weekend before it runs. This means I got to it 3-4 days ahead of schedule, which is better than nothing. But, it would have gotten done anyway. A real accomplishment would have been to take on some other task that might otherwise not have gotten done at all...more on that in a bit.

One thing I did straightaway was contact my mortgage-bank to make sure I would be off the hook for payments during this interval. For readers unaware, let this be my public-service announcement: It varies by state and mortgage-type, but if you have a mortgage loan, and this situation has impacted your ability to keep up with it, chances are that you can stop making payments for a period of months without suffering penalties or credit-reporting. It’s not automatic – you have to contact your lender. Of course, lots of other people are doing the same thing, as well as contacting lenders for Federal-bailout loans, so this involves spending some time on hold. But, hey, look at all the spare time you now have for such things!

I’ve done better than usual with my exercise regimen, no longer having to squeeze it in around a regular work schedule, and I encourage anybody who’s been struggling to get one going to take the opportunity also. In addition to having more time to do it, I also find that my performance is improved by exercising closer to the middle of the day, which isn’t an option when I’m working normal hours.

Gradually, the “I wanted to get this done anyway” stuff is being polished off. As this happens, another batch of stuff looms larger: Things that I know should get done, but I’d never realistically get around to. It’s a weird type of procrastination I discovered sometime around my college-years – putting off truly undesirable tasks by taking care of other, more palatable ones.

My home-office, for instance, is a room that pretty much nobody but me ever sees, so I’ve gradually allowed it to become a minor disaster area in terms of needing tidying/cleaning. Just about anything else seems to take precedence: paperwork, laundry, CME, blogging, etc. Handily, many of these other things are recurring tasks. So, they can get in the way of tending to the office each and every week. Sort of like reading a bunch of quick-n-easy X-rays and ultrasounds rather than taking on a head-to-toe, cancer-restaging CT. You develop a decent list of accomplishments to feel good about, but that CT isn’t going away until you roll up your metaphorical sleeves and get to it.

Some items have been circulating around social media, to the tune of “After wanting to thoroughly clean my house for years but not having enough time…this week I discovered that wasn’t the real reason.” We now have the time – how many of us will make good use of it?