Hiring a Freelance Physician? Three Questions Administrators Should Ask

By Suneel Dhand, MD
December 7, 2018

As health care organizations turn to locum tenens doctors, the answers can help leaders deal with uncertainty.

As more and more physicians turn to side gigs to regain a sense of independence, supplement their income and cover areas of urgent need, administrations are increasingly working with pools of per diem doctors. If they are not used to doing this, they may have a lot of initial questions. Here are three of the most common:

Q Are these physicians any less competent than our regular full-time doctors?

A No. Lots of physicians who want to work on a per diem basis are highly experienced in their fields and have taken the path for personal reasons. Traditionally, most of them were at the start, or end, of their careers, but this is changing. In many ways, they are likely to be an asset because they are used to working in different places and can provide important feedback on clinical processes that the institution can do better.

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Obviously, due diligence is always necessary, and the interview and credentialing process should be just as rigorous as for any other physician.

Q How do they get paid, and how will malpractice coverage work for them?

A Physicians can either be paid on a regular W-2 or a Form 1099 arrangement. Many physicians work as “independent contractors” on a 1099, and this is something that most human resources departments can handle.

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Physicians usually have their own malpractice coverage, but adding them onto your group’s regular coverage (especially for large groups) usually is not costly.

Q How often will these doctors be able to work?

A The answer varies. Some doctors will be able to commit to several days a month, and others will want to work a block schedule — several days at a time — around their other obligations. The best thing is clarity from the beginning; per diem physicians usually will be happy to arrange their schedules many months in advance (most of them specifically want to do this).

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Health care is changing at breathtaking pace, and if your organization doesn’t already have several good per diem physicians available to step in quickly when required, it should. An aging population and rise in chronic comorbidities only will increase the need for physicians. Preparing in advance for times of inevitable increased demand is smart, and it saves hiring stress later.

Suneel Dhand, MD, is board-certified in internal medicine and based in Massachusetts. He is co-founder of DocsDox, an online service that connects physicians with moonlighting and per diem opportunities.

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