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The background story.
As the COVID-19 pandemic rages on and with shelter-at-home orders mandated across wide swaths of the United States, as well as state-implemented bans on all elective medical procedures, my medical practice has taken dramatic financial hits.
In an earlier post, “The White Coat Is Not A Shield,” I mentioned that the board of directors at my medical practice, an outpatient multi-specialty clinic of over 70 physicians, had mandated a 40% reduction in salary draw based on our 2019 W-2.
The board had recognized early on that there was a dramatic drop in patient volumes at the start of the US pandemic and rightfully deduced that this would put us in a grave financial predicament if proactive steps were not implemented.
Surgical specialties were projected to have >70% loss of patient volume and the financial consequences of that would be far-reaching, hitting even the non-surgical specialties.
The glass was not half full or empty. It was shattered.
When the board of directors made the 40% salary reduction mandate, it was still fairly early in the COVID-19 presentation.
As several more weeks of data came in, it was sad to say that original estimates, which already seemed grim, were in actuality too optimistic as the amount of patient visits were even lower than those projected.
We soon received notice that the 40% salary reduction was now increased to a 60% reduction that would remain in effect until patient visits started rebounding.
[In my previous post there was a comment about whether or not administration also subjected themselves to this financial haircut.
For this round of cost-saving measures, the administration voluntarily reduced their draw by 20%.]
Regardless of income level, a 60% financial hit with no end in sight is unsettling for anyone.
There have been previous challenges for those to live on half their income so that they can build up their savings.
But this was far worse.
Now you are supposed to live on less than half of what you previously made and also not have the benefit of bolstering your savings because of it.
Making lemonade out of lemons: Self Furlough.
Radiology, like other specialties, is a volume-based entity.
Without patients coming in for routine clinical examinations, radiology studies do not get ordered.
With patient’s sheltering at home, previously reliable volume from annual screening studies such as mammograms, also vanished.
What was once an incredibly busy 2-radiologist practice came screeching to a halt during the COVID-19 pandemic and my colleague and I found ourselves with a lot of time on our hands because of it.
I had so much time on my hands that I completed over 20 hours of CME over 2 work days, something that would have been impossible to do at any point of my career previously.
We very quickly realized that it made no sense for both of us to come in to work for the amount of volume we were witnessing.
A decision was then made to enact a self-furlough policy.
We first decided to reduce the coverage we had used in the past that allowed us to each take 1 day off a week.
So that it was not a complete financial disaster for the semi-retired radiologist who was covering us, we decided to instead have his 2 days of coverage/week reduced to 1 (every Monday which happened to be the busiest day because of the addition of any studies performed over the weekend).
That left the remaining 4 days of the week to be covered by either my colleague or I.
We decided that the best way would be one radiologist have Thursday through Wednesday completely off while the other one worked and alternate this each week.
So far we have gone through 1 1/2 cycles of this arrangement and it seems to be working quite well.
The biggest benefits have been mental.
The radiologist working is busy enough now to not feel underutilized and therefore not wasting his time.
The furloughed radiologist essentially gets a week long vacation, reduces potential exposure to COVID-19 by half, and eliminates the hassles of commuting to and from work (typically a 40 min commute for me).
Financially it should come out as a wash in this furlough system when compared to both of us working at the same time.
So it truly is as close to a win-win situation as you can have during these unsettling times and highlights how a furlough can be implemented for a positive benefit.
Light at the end of the tunnel?
It is hard to predict when the medical community will recover.
Some of my colleagues have seen patient volume drop so low that they have closed their offices until the all clear sign is lit.
There may be some light at the end of the tunnel as talks of re-opening businesses in planned phases is set to be implemented in the beginning of May.
Even of more import to my particular medical practice is that there have been rumblings that the ban on elective surgeries will be lifted in early May as well as life starts to normalize once more.
Hopefully these steps will allow those of us that were drastically impacted to claw ourselves back financially to where we were pre-COVID.
Until then, having a self-imposed furlough will have to suffice.
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Even a steadfast DIY’er can sometimes gain benefit from the occasional professional input.
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