Teleradiology or Part-timers to Cover Staffing Needs?

October 27, 2011
Richard Woodcock, MD

We’ve considered several options to deal with variability of staffing and variability of workflow. One is leveraging teleradiology services; a second is employing part-time staff. But which is more cost-effective? It really depends on your model.

Like many practices, we deal with variability of staffing and variability of workflow. There are times of the year that our business is up, and times when it is down. There are times when everyone wants time off (summer) and times when we are fully staffed.

The trick is to marry your staffing to the work. Certainly, you can use a classical model accepting that in any business you just have to work extra sometimes when work demands.

We’ve considered several options. One is leveraging teleradiology services; a second is employing part-time staff. But which is more cost-effective? It really depends on your model. It is not just what you pay for the service that maters, you have to look for the hidden costs as well.

The big question is, how complicated is your business? This directly impacts your up-front and ongoing costs.

Two areas are front and center:

1. Credentialing. If you have multiple imaging partners, credentialing may be administratively very costly and time consuming. That may be particularly true with government and large hospital system partners. You’re a single hospital practice? That cost may be negligible. But keeping those credentials active is essential, lest you find your part-time staff can’t work when they arrive or can’t be paid for their work. You can partially defray those costs by leaving this to your part-time staff themselves, but that risks the process being slow and perhaps not completed.

2. IT. If you use several PACS systems or work at a variety of locations, keeping up with the changes to these systems can be time-consuming and costly. How many programs, log-ons and dictation systems do you use for the whole of your business? Will the part-time staff be able to walk in the door and function at all of them or will they require on-site training? Who will do this? How often will it be done for someone who may work only very occasionally? Be sure that someone is responsible for updating passwords and resetting credentials, lest you find your part-time staff is unable to work when they arrive. And don’t forget about security issues. In an ever more complex environment, someone will need to make sure your part-time staff is up to date on necessary security, and other training modules.

Outsourcing to a teleradiology company can make these issues disappear. But you pay for it. There’s no right answer for that but depending on your business, one may make most sense.

And don’t forget about ways to mitigate the impact. If you do want to go with the part-time route, consider an option that might reduce the start-up cost: make your part-timer someone who has worked with you for a long time, perhaps someone who has recently retired from your full-time track.