Gig Employment Can Improve Patient Care and Reduce Clinician Burnout

Gone are the days where only musicians pick up gigs — freelance and on-demand services are on the rise and quickly transforming major industries. Healthcare is no exception.

Baby boomers are retiring at a staggering pace and millennials are quickly taking their place as the largest segment of healthcare workers. Healthcare is the largest sector of employment in the US (2.5M workers), and second largest in Canada (1.7M workers), thus it accounts for a significant proportion of the millennial workforce.

Yet employment models for clinicians remain unchanged since the 1900’s.

Work culture has shifted drastically over generations, making traditional employment models less appealing. This holds true among clinicians, who seek diversity and flexibility in their work, often holding multiple part time positions in different specialities.

Telehealth has led in the adoption of gig models in healthcare, but many if not most specialties can benefit.

As we face clinician shortages, the gig economy presents a unique opportunity to both increase healthcare workforce capacity and decrease clinician burnout, all while saving money. Travel agencies and locum tenens help fill labor gaps, but come at a significant cost. By offering both gig and traditional employment models directly, organizations can provide greater flexibility to clinicians who wish to hold a mix of full time, part time and on-demand positions.

The US spent $3.2 trillion on healthcare in 2017, 60% of which was attributed to labor cost alone. The gig economy empowers healthcare organizations to meet their staffing and patient care needs at a lower cost, but also meet the needs of healthcare professionals in new ways. Those who enjoy the benefits of consistent work, pay and benefits can choose traditional models of working, while also picking up gig opportunities as needed; conversely, gig workers can enjoy the flexibility and control of self-scheduling. Further benefits may arise by offering on-demand clinical opportunities to those clinicians who otherwise work in administration, academia, pharma and other roles [including retired baby boomers] where they can benefit from occasional work at the bedside to stay engaged with current clinical practice.

The face of healthcare has changed yet we continue to work in traditional ways. Healthcare organizations are making strides in reducing costs by creating process efficiencies, but struggle to make a dent in the $2 trillion labor spend. Clinical recruitment and staffing is ripe for disruption and we need to identify opportunities [not barriers] to new ways of working that improve the health and safety of patients, clinicians and our communities.