A year gone by: New flavors of teleradiology

Jan 14, 2020

The changing, more personalized, face of teleradiology

Regular readers of this column will know that it’s been about a year since I left corporate teleradiology to, instead, work with a comparatively small rad group (as in, a few dozen docs instead of a few hundred).

A rad I know via social media recently asked me if I happened to have a “canned” writeup as to why I would not recommend working in my previous gig. Thinking he might be giving a little talk to some colleagues, I quickly churned out and sent a page of bullet-points. It’s really not hard, a year out, to remember all of the reasons why you left a job.

I think he was a little taken aback as to how fast I sent him the reply. Truth be told, I was literally sitting around and waiting to head out for a holiday gathering at the time, so clacking away at my keyboard was a handy activity. He explained that he was really getting info for himself, as he was considering teleradiology work but had come to think of the job-offerings in terms of which had “the fewest negatives, as opposed to one with the most positives.”

Happily, I was able to tell him that teleradiology work is now far from all-created-equal. And that, while the big corporate entities (vRad, RadPartners, etc.) differ from one another in, at best, minor ways, there is a newer “flavor” of teleradiology that has finally begun to emerge. Better late than never, but I’d expected this relative newcomer to be commonplace a decade ago, maybe more.

Unlike the corporate versions, whose business model is chiefly about providing telerad services to established hospitals and overburdened rad groups, wherever they can be found, the newer - and I’d argue better for individual radiologists - approach is for local practices to remotely/virtually hire (or contract with) radiologists who then don’t need to relocate wherever the group is situated.

There are a number of reasons why a radiologist might be seeking telework in the first place, reasons I’ve outlined in this column as far back as 2011 when I first took the telerad plunge. Lots of folks don’t want to relocate but have few or no good employment options where they are living. Working from home might also be logistically best for them, or they reside in a time-zone that allows them to provide night-coverage when, for them, it’s actually still daytime.

What this newer flavor of teleradiology doesn’t do-in contradistinction to the big corporate telerads-is turn the teleradiologist into a mere cog in a machine. The radiologist can be just as much a member of the rad group as he or she would have been if working on-site (minus face-to-face interactions). This includes paths to meaningful partnership, real input into decision-making, leadership positions, etc. Of course, such things aren’t guarantees in any venue - heck, one of the reasons I joined vRad in the first place years ago was that my previous two on-site jobs had failed me in those regards.

From a logistical standpoint, working as a remote employee - or contractor - for a group can be a lot simpler and tidier, for everyone involved. Groups that choose to get involved with a telerad corporation (or have one foisted on them by affiliated hospitals) lose a great deal of control, start having to transact with a bunch of additional middlemen, and, of course, have to cough up a healthy chunk of revenue that could otherwise have paid the teleradiologists more competitively or been reinvested into making an “in-house” teleradiology setup more robust.

Further, unlike most of the corporate-telerad job offerings, a remote-hire’s hours of coverage can be much more “normal.” When I joined vRad, for instance, it was a given that I’d be exclusively working nightshifts, and at least 50 percent of my weekends and holidays every single year. Since the bulk of telerad work is providing coverage when onsite radiologists can’t or don’t want to be working, I’m sure nights, weekends, and holidays are still where most of the needs are.

Meanwhile, a rad group can treat its remote members just like its onsite docs: Work your Monday-to-Friday dayshifts, for instance, and a fair share of the evenings or weekends. Or take on some remote members specifically to be “night guys,” whether for the long haul or for the first X number of months or years perhaps in exchange for an upgrade in compensation, vacation, etc. But, it should be done always with the philosophy that the remote folks are being treated as equal citizens in the group, not some hired-gun workhorse to be used until burnout sets in.