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Radiology programs leave locums behind, embrace a better staffing solution

Imaging providers are continuously filling holes in their radiologist coverage schedule. Maybe the only neuroradiologist is out sick, for example, or two-thirds of the staff all want to attend the same conference.

This is typically when groups turn to locum tenens, but the high cost, time-consuming logistics, and unpredictable performance can be a thorn in the side for imaging leaders wanting to deliver high-quality patient care in a streamlined and efficient manner.

Of course, locums are used for more than unexpected or one-time vacancies. Some hospitals and private practices bring them on in lieu of adding a new full-time hire. Others rely on locums when a radiologist needs an extended break due to a health issue.

The drawbacks of locums have led some providers to embrace an alternative approach with great success—partnering with vRad’s virtual FTE radiologists for flexible, predictable, pay-as-you-go coverage.

Freedom & flexibility

The radiology department at Medical Center Hospital (MCH) in Odessa, Texas, started using vRad to cover nighttime reads about 15 years ago. The quality of that work was so strong that, as time went on, MCH started leveraging vRad radiologists more and more—eventually allowing MCH to say goodbye to locum radiologists altogether.

“With locums, unless you had someone you used every time, you just never knew how it would work out,” says George N. Rodenko, MD, chief of radiology at MCH. “There might be quality issues, there might be speed issues, you don’t know how long they will need to learn your equipment. It’s just not a fast solution to a staffing issue—it could take up to six weeks just for the locum to get started. With vRad, on the other hand, we can get assistance as soon as we need it.”

vRad’s virtual FTEs supply MCH with a much-needed boost of staffing power with access to the team of teleradiologists at all times of day.

“vRad provides our practice with so much flexibility when it comes to start times and other big staffing decisions,” says Rodenko. “Some parts of the year just aren’t as busy for us—and other times are incredibly busy. Using vRad as needed throughout the workday helps us get through all of that.”

No more locums billing hassles

vRad’s service also cuts down on the amount of intensive paperwork he and his team had to fill out.

When healthcare providers use locums, they still end up billing and collecting on any studies the locum happened to read—and that’s in addition to the logistics and fees just to get them in the door. vRad, on the other hand, can take care of all aspects of billing for the professional fee if clients so choose.

“The way vRad handles billing is just a huge financial advantage for us,” Rodenko says. “We no longer pay for, or have to worry about, collecting on any of our temporary radiologist coverage. vRad takes care of it on their end. We simply ask them to cover.”

The team at MCH also leverages vRad’s monthly reporting package to help manage their imaging business.

“I love how much they always communicate,” says Carol Evans, RT (R), MHS, division director of radiology at MCH. “They send us a report every month that lists everything: The number of images they’ve read, the number of studies, their turnaround times, all of it. It’s very detailed, and it helps me track our volume throughout the year. It’s very good data.”

Build your very own dream team

Augusto Elias, MD, a neurointerventional radiologist, first used vRad’s virtual FTEs back in 2017, shortly after the University of Michigan Health System in Ann Arbor aligned with Metro Health where he was serving as clinical chief of radiology. When the two systems merged, Elias was charged with bringing in the best specialists he could find to build a brand-new radiology practice from the ground up.

“Of course I said yes to the opportunity,” Elias says. “I knew I wanted to take my time and select some real superstar radiologists, but we also needed help right away. So that left me with two options in the meantime: Temporarily fill the department with locums or utilize vRad.”

Elias chose vRad, recalling that Metro Health’s prior experience with locums had been mixed at best. Instead of a reliable resource, they were more like that box of chocolates in “Forrest Gump.” You never knew what you were going to get.

“Sometimes, the locums were a good fit,” Elias remembers. “But some of them were questionable at best, jumping around from job to job. We are part of the University of Michigan and our standards are very high—we needed high-level interpretations each and every time.”

Elias reports that the collaboration with vRad has been a huge success that still continues. Instead of rushing to fill vacancies or bringing in a team of pricey locums, he has been able to take his time and build the radiology department of his dreams. Metro Health currently has a team of five diagnostic radiologists, two mammographers, and three interventional radiologists―and Elias still plans to hire five or so more diagnostic specialists to round out the team.

Even once his daytime team is fully assembled, however, Elias won’t be leaving vRad behind.

“The idea right now is for our radiologists to eventually handle all daytime interpretations,” he says. “And then vRad will take over at night and during the weekends, because we know they can do the job and do it well. That’s the ultimate goal.”

For another perspective and a punch-list of benefits for teleradiology as an alternative to locums, check out the recent blog post by vRad Medical Director, Nina Geatrakas, MD, Why teleradiology may be a better option than locum tenens for temporary radiologist staffing.

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