In recent years, the potential employment options and career paths for physicians, nurse practitioners, and other healthcare professionals have taken a turn for the better thanks to new and exciting opportunities, particularly in telemedicine and locum tenens. For ambitious providers, leveraging either of these employment options can provide plenty of unique rewards, including greater workplace flexibility and freedom, to name a few.
What is Locum Tenens?
The rough translation of the Latin term “locum tenens” is “to hold a place”. In the modern medical industry, locum tenens physicians are healthcare professionals who are temporarily employed care providers to work (or, hold a place) within a specific hospital, clinic, or health system. Locum tenens physicians and locum tenens physician assistants are typically used to address staff shortages in the short-term, and the contracted employment time frame often varies from 1 to 6 months, depending on how long those vacancies are to last.
What is Telemedicine?
“Telehealth” is a term used to encompass all the broad telecommunications technologies that patients and doctors can use to both give and receive health care at a distance. Within telehealth. telemedicine is a more specific practice of using technology to provide medicine and other remote clinical services from afar. Through the use of telemedicine, a physician in one location utilizes an established telecommunications structure to deliver quality care to a patient at a distant site.
There’s also another relevant term known as “mHealth,” which is a subsection of both these fields. With mHealth, mobile technology is the primary means of giving and receiving medical care – effectively explaining the abbreviation for “mobile health.”
Telemedicine Locum Tenens Overlap
By the very nature of telemedicine operations, the care providers hired might be referred to as locum tenens since they are filling a role that is addressing new demand and/or a new telemedicine platform. Referring to a telemedicine physician as locum tenens is not a correct description. When a telemedicine physician signs on as an independent contractor, they are signing up with a telemedicine platform to provide a monthly schedule to see patients on an on-going basis, not for a finite period of time. The only similarity is that in both contracting models is the flexibility to choose a schedule by the physician.
Though locum tenens and telemedicine are actually two distinctly separate types of employment, they can and do sometimes overlap. For example, many locum providers (and their employers) find that the most convenient way to fulfill these short-term “place-holding” responsibilities is through the use of convenient remote care technology – i.e., telemedicine. Similarly, locum physicians might work part-time in telemedicine for supplemental income.
If you’re in a situation where you are deciding between one or the other, or even considering starting a dual career in both, it’s important to familiarize yourself with the pros and cons of each career path.
Telemedicine Pros and Cons
The pros and cons of telemedicine are subjective, meaning they can change for providers on a case-by-case basis depending on the provider’s unique situation. However, they can be broken down into some common themes, as seen below:
- Increased Workplace Flexibility: Telehealth physicians typically enjoy much more workplace flexibility. After all, the remote nature of telemedicine means providers work wherever they want and, quite frequently, whenever they want based on how they schedule their appointments.
- Telemedicine Moonlighting Perks: The term “moonlighting” originated because second jobs were traditionally reserved for the late-night hours. With the increased workplace flexibility that telehealth introduces, telemedicine can truly become a convenient second gig after hours.
- Cost Efficiency: Being a telemedicine physician can be more cost-efficient than being a traditional healthcare provider for a number of reasons. For one, there is no transportation to and from work required, and patients and doctors alike only need to set aside a small window of time to be logged.
- Increased Quality of Care: In an ideal world, the highest quality of care would always be achieved by having all the necessary physicians, specialists, and nurse practitioners in the same room at the same time for every patient, all collaborating on a carefully curated treatment plan in real-time. Now, this is a bit of a fantasy as far as real-world feasibility goes (though some more progressive brick-and-mortar hospital systems are making this more of a reality), but telemedicine does enable for much more streamlined collaboration and feedback between specialists online. Ultimately, this results in more informed, feedback-driven diagnoses for telemedicine patients.
- Reduced Care Continuity: Most virtual patients won’t be meeting with the same doctor every time; rather, they’ll be meeting with the first available physician qualified to diagnose or provide them with a treatment plan. As such, telemedicine physicians are less likely to develop long-term relationships like they would in a more “traditional” care setting.
- Unpredictability: Due to the frequently shifting nature of telemedicine staffing models and operational telehealth trends, a predictable workload is not always achievable. While unpredictability is a pretty common characteristic in the medical profession as a whole, it can become doubly so when you factor in a virtual waiting room that changes every second as physicians compete to meet their daily consult quotas.
- Unique Regulatory Barriers: Every state has its own unique regulatory barriers when it comes to telemedicine clinics and business models. In addition, physicians must consider multi-state medical licensing requirements if they wish to make their telehealth careers as fruitful as possible. Naturally, this introduces a series of complex laws and compliance regulations to consider.
- Not Suitable for All Specialties: Even though quality of care can often be improved through the utilization of telemedicine, there are certain medical specialties and situations that are much better suited for in-person assessments and treatment. For example, an ENT might find it extremely difficult to adequately examine a patient’s nasal and sinus cavities in a virtual setting, thereby negating the effectiveness of a remote consultation or check-up. Because of this, there are certain medical specialities that are simply not quite ready for a virtual care delivery model.
Locum Tenens Pros and Cons
Just like with telemedicine, the pros and cons of locum tenens work are incredibly subjective, especially since physicians in this field will be working at different facilities and with different contractors to find new positions. Still, there are some broad themes which can be addressed from a high-level perspective:
- Flexible Schedules: Many locum physicians are allowed to set their own schedules for upcoming assignments. So, if one wishes to work weekends, or even a select few weekdays throughout the duration of an assignment, this can likely be agreed on before the assignment is accepted. In addition, many locum tenens healthcare providers even agree to full-time jobs, giving them maximum pay and work to do for as long as their services are required.
- Chance to Try New Things: Many healthcare providers never get the chance to try out different gigs before signing a long-term contract, whether at a large hospital, rural clinic, or elsewhere. Locum tenens is an exciting way for both brand new and experienced physicians to try out temporary jobs in different locations while meeting new people and experiencing different workplace cultures – all without the fear of long-term commitment.
- The Chance to Travel: Similar to the above point, locum tenens is a great way for physicians and nurse practitioners to exercise their wanderlust and see different parts of the country (while also working and making money). Want to get away from the snowy Midwest during the cold winter months? See if there’s a seasonal position available in Florida! Want to spend your weekends exploring the West Coast? Look into weekday opportunities in California.
- Good Pay: Aside from the freedom to travel, try new things, and create a more flexible work schedule, money is a huge reason why physicians are drawn to locum tenens. Depending on the specialty and location of the job, many healthcare facilities will be willing to pay extra during times of high demand and low availability.
- Being Away From Family & Friends: While travel certainly has its glamorous side, it also comes with a cost – especially for those with families. While it’s exciting to go from city to city while working at the same time, physicians with families will inevitably be forced to say goodbye to their family and friends for extended periods of time. Of course, with the conveniences of modern communications and other technologies, this isn’t quite the burden that it used to be, but it can still become a challenge for some.
- Lack of Stability: Because locum tenens physicians are contracted for short durations of time instead of being employed directly, stability (or the lack thereof) can become a frequent source of anxiety. No matter how long your contract is, the very nature of locum tenens means that it will eventually expire – meaning you always have to be on the lookout for what to do afterwards (assuming you aren’t working locum as a supplement to a more stable “main” job). Fortunately, there will always be the need for locum physicians to fill in at short-staffed hospitals; it’s just a matter of keeping an eye out for those positions, applying for them, and constantly planning ahead.
- Less Workplace Consistency: As you know by now, working locum tenens means constantly relocating and going to new clinics and facilities. But with these things comes the lack of a comfort zone, at least for some. You’ll always be meeting new staff, learning new policies, and working with new patients, which can be a challenge for some who don’t like adapting to new situations and settings with such frequency.
- Less Options for Benefits: If you’re particularly concerned about securing benefits – including anything from health insurance to disability insurance to retirement savings options – then you might find locum tenens work to be a bit complicated. While there are options for various benefits with most locum work, it is often up to the physician to take the initiative to find out about them.
Regardless of whether you’re leaning towards locum tenens opportunities or starting your telemedicine career (or dabbling in both), the future looks bright for both of these niche industries. Medlink works exclusively in physician staffing and placement for both locum tenens and telemedicine at health care systems and clinics in all 50 states. Contact us to get started and gain the flexibility that each career path offers.