Memoirs of a Teleradiologist, Round One

February 17, 2012
Eric Postal, MD

So I took the plunge, and became a teleradiologist.

So I took the plunge, and became a teleradiologist

Why did I do it, you ask (or accuse)? Like Batman’s Joker, I could give a different yet plausible background story to each person asking. Perhaps I live somewhere with no local job openings. Maybe all of the nearby options are filled and/or offer noncompetitive terms.

Perhaps I just don’t like to commute. Or dress up for work. Or even leave my house. Maybe I got fed up with departmental politics, or hierarchies with no upward mobility, in which I perpetually found myself doing disproportionate amounts of work to line the pockets of less productive senior folks. Such a low-tier role might have forced me to head up modalities of little interest to me, and/or sequestered me from my chosen areas of subspecialty.

However it happened, I did it, and have thus far been happy with the change.

This was far from a sure thing; I personally knew nobody in the telerad field, and certainly nobody who had made the switch from a conventional brick-and-mortar job who could compare and contrast the two for me. I did know one or two folks who had looked into telerad but stayed away from it because they didn’t like what they saw during their preliminary investigations.

To a certain extent, then, this was a leap of faith for me. Perhaps, by detailing some of my experiences along the way, I might help a few others decide whether such a move would be right for them.

There are more than a couple of telerad entities out there, and I am sure that one’s experience in the field will depend in large measure on which agency one is considering. I won’t even try to compare and contrast individual companies; I really didn’t look into that many in great detail, and only wound up doing actual work with one. In short, YMMV (internet-speak for Your Mileage May Vary).

One of the considerations that should probably take center stage for any prospective teleradiologist is work volume. That is, how many studies do you read in a given period of time? Most telerad situations I’ve encountered base their docs’ compensations on what they produce. The most straightforward way of doing this is having a running tally of studies read. Weekly, biweekly, monthly, whatever - 10 percent more studies in a given period means you’ll see 10 percent more payment.

Some places might have the trappings of an hourly system, but make no mistake - if you don’t produce the volume needed to pay for your own compensation and make your place on the team financially worthwhile, you’ll be hearing about it. If you’ve grown accustomed to a hospital or office-based environment where you can kick back between cases and goof off for 15 to 20 minutes, this might be a rude awakening.

On the other hand (at least for me), it can also be an invigorating change. Knowing that there’s a direct correlation between your work and your compensation reestablishes a sense of capitalism into the process. It didn’t take long for me to go from an “Oh no, another bundle of STAT cases” groan to a “Thank heaven, more work” smile.

Part and parcel of this transition was a dramatic increase in the number of cases I read. In my last couple of onsite brick-and-mortar jobs, I had developed what I thought was a pretty solid notion of what an industrious day’s work was for me; let’s call it X number of mixed cases (I was one of the busiest guys on the team). I now routinely read 2X, and knew that such would have to be my goal if I made the transition to telerad. The thought gave me pause; would I be insanely hectic and/or frantic to stay on schedule? Would the quality of my reads drop as a result?

In my next installment, I’ll explain why none of those worries came to pass, and why I’m actually far more relaxed at my reading-station now than I was before.