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December 17, 2017 Practice Points

The Gig Economy, the Proliferation of Telemedicine, and the Millennials

By Sidney O. Minter

By now, many people are familiar with the term "gig economy." In fact, the term was a runner-up for the Collins Dictionary 2017 Word of the Year. Ride sharing giants Uber and Lyft are two of the most recognizable gig employers. These companies allow consumers to order personal drivers through a mobile application.

I will admit, when I first learned about the gig economy a few years ago, I was a little leery, as I can imagine many people might have been, too. Over time, however, ride sharing has proven safe and cost effective. Accordingly, ride sharing and the gig economy have realized continued growth. The gig economy, however, encompasses far more industries than just ride sharing. It includes daily and routine tasks such as food delivery and personal grocery shopping, just to name a couple.

Medical appointments are a routine task as well. But, how would you feel about interacting with medical professionals on a similar platform to ride sharing? This platform is called telemedicine and may be coming to a city near you—if it has not already arrived.

Telemedicine is a new, yet growing phenomenon. Telemedicine is projected to have seven million patient users by 2018 and to become a $36.2 billion industry by 2020. Approximately 90 percent of healthcare executives report that their organizations are already using or have plans to implement telehealth platforms. According to recent studies, 73 percent of consumers would discuss their health issues with a virtual doctor, and more than 50 percent would use the platform for an annual physical exam.

Why leave home to visit your doctor when you can either Skype or text your physician? Telemedicine practitioners say virtual appointments provide greater access to care and engagement with patients. Unfortunately, there is a shortage of medical care professionals in the United States. According to the U.S. Health Services and Resources Administration, over 65 million Americans live in "primary care deserts" where access to primary care is limited or non-existent. Telemedicine can help bridge the gap and provide care for this segment of the population.

More healthcare systems are beginning to offer telemedicine as an option to patients. For instance, Nomad Healthcare recently announced its intention to delve into the business. Initially, Nomad created a platform enabling doctors and nurses to partner with hospitals in need of medical professionals on a short-term, freelance basis. Our blog recently covered a similar trend in Europe. Now, Nomad plans to create an online jobs marketplace for doctors who want to contract their services.

The rise of telemedicine is very much millennial-driven. Employers across various professions continuously search for effective methods of attracting and retaining millennials—which encompasses individuals born between 1982 and 2004. Soon, this segment of the population will replace baby boomers in leadership positions across the country. That said, business leaders continue to find ways to successfully attract, retain, and motivate these professionals.

Like their millennial counterparts, physicians, and other healthcare professionals are interested in remote work, and telemedicine provides that opportunity. The option to work full-time for a hospital, while having the option to perform contract work, attracts many millennials. These workers are also amendable to short-term work assignments where they can earn money per "gig." Millennial healthcare professionals are certainly taking note of these opportunities.

We will continue monitoring the telemedicine movement and will provide additional updates relating to legal concerns, compliance, and other relevant issues.

Sidney O. Minter is a labor and employment associate in Charlotte, North Carolina.