Making Up for Lost Time

November 24, 2017

Dealing with unexpected downtime.

Regular readers of this column will know that I work via teleradiology from a home office. And that, from time to time, outages of power and/or internet service prevent me from working when I’d planned to. I’ve come to refer to my status under such circumstances as being “dead in the water.” DitW, since I’ll be using the term a few times here.

It doesn’t make anyone happy when I’m DitW. vRad (I would say my employer, but officially I’m an independent contractor) expects me to be online and hacking away at my worklists when I’m on the schedule, and for that matter their clients are expecting a certain level of coverage. Even if there are other rads reading for every single site on my list, taking me out of the mix is going to impact turnaround times.

Being DitW doesn’t make me joyous, either. Unlike a sick day from grade school, it’s not a sudden holiday where I laze about in PJs, eating popcorn and watching cartoons without a care in the world. Instead, I’m very much aware that, as a rad whose payment is 100% derived from case-reading productivity, every minute of downtime is a financial hit I’m taking.

Not only am I accruing a debt in terms of money (to myself, and to the various entities that gleefully gobble up my paychecks each month), it’s also an uncomfortable deficit of time. I do have a contracted number of hours with vR, and it’s not their fault if I suddenly can’t do some of them when I’m supposed to. So, when I lose hours from being DitW, it’s immediately on my mind as to when I’ll be able to pay them back from my otherwise not-scheduled-to-work time.

Such making up for lost time mars the beautiful simplicity of my 7 days on, 7-off schedule, and can be a headache to fit in between other aspects of my trying to have a life of my own. It’s got a positive aspect, however, that can get overlooked: It “keeps me honest” such that I wind up working however many hours I lost. That financial debt I mentioned above, therefore, never actually happens. I’m not so sure that would be the case if I were at liberty to shrug and not “pay back” hours that I wasn’t able to work.

Further, working for a large entity like vRad makes paying it back pretty easy. When you have 500+ rads in the mix and imaging studies flowing in regularly from over 2000 facilities, a lot of redundancy has to be built into the system to ensure that 1) the clients always have one or more rads covering them, and 2) the rads always have work they can do. It’s a constant balancing act-which means that the scheduling folks usually have multiple options to offer extra hours for rads who need them.

Case in point: The work week before my last got kicked off with a Monday during which I had no internet service whatsoever, and about 3 hours of Tuesday, too. A 13-hour deficit, and with the holidays right around the corner! Ugh.

So, when my ISP was gracious enough to resume providing the service for which I handsomely pay them as of mid-Tuesday, I immediately fired up my workstation and notified vR’s nerve-center that I was back in business. Further, since I knew I had nothing going on with my evening that day, I asked them if I could add an hour to the end of my shift to start working off the deficit. No hesitation from them: Yes, I could. Immediately, I breathed a bit easier, since I now had a 12-hour shortfall instead of 13 to make up.

Three other days during the remaining five of that work week, upon logging in, I made the same request: Can I work 11 hours today instead of 10? Every time, an instant “yes.” So, even before my first actual day off, I no longer had a full 10-hour shift left to make up.

And, as it happened, that off week was a busy one for me, with family coming to visit and no opportunity for me to work. I have no idea how much time would have had to pass before vRad’s people started nudging me about making up those hours, but it sure didn’t happen during that week. Then, I was on to another week’s worth of shifts, and again I encountered no hassles when asking to extend my workday by an hour, here or there.

Also worth mentioning: They have the same hassle-free mechanism for replacing missing hours in advance (they call it “pay it forward” instead of “pay if back”). For instance, if I know I’m going to need some otherwise scheduled-to-work time off of my calendar in the visible future, I can compensate for my absence ahead of time. There’s something nice about taking a vacation and knowing you’ve already paid for it.