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Is the time ripe for the 'gig economy' in health care?

There are few who would argue the health care system in the United States wouldn't benefit from some shaking up. What form that shaking should take is the $64,000 question. Unfortunately, no clear answers have surfaced and debate continues.

Many stakeholders contribute to the discussion – doctors, nurses and other medical professionals not the least among them. And one of the most pressing concerns they likely have is about how any given business model will address the medical and legal hurdles they face in delivering effective care. Medicine is a complicated mix of science and art to begin with and economic realities only add to that complexity.

Advances in medical technology are sometimes blamed as a cause for increased costs of health care in America. Not everyone agrees. There are those who point to specific technological advancements, suggesting they may hold the key to improving care while making it more cost effective.

Many readers may be unaware that there has been something of an evolution in staffing in the health care industry in recent years. A notable shortage of providers is cited as increasing the number of doctors and nurses who serve as locum tenens staff. These are individuals who have opted out of the normal model of full time private or group practice. Instead, they offer their services on a temporary, as-needed basis, and many facilities are taking advantage.

Growth in locum tenens hiring is so significant that it has spawned the development of firms to support the contracting process. And with developments in the online economy occurring at warp speed, there are start-up companies now appearing to bridge the gap between supply and demand.

A founder of one of them, Nomad Health, describes his company's latest offering as an Airbnb-like solution. In this vision of practice, freelance providers contract to deliver their services through telemedicine tools.

Certain delicate legal issues, such as securing malpractice insurance, are managed by the firm. However, the company acknowledges that regulations controlling medical accreditation and delivery of service across state lines remain as obstacles to be worked on – something for which experienced legal counsel is needed.

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