Imagine being in the final months of a medical residency. You are trying to decide which route to take when you finally launch. You know you don’t want to own a practice and joining a group practice doesn’t appeal to you either. As you see it, your two best options are working as a hospitalist or making a career of locum tenens.

What if you could combine the two? Actually, you can. There is an emerging trend of companies being formed to provide on-demand hospitalist coverage utilizing clinicians who are essentially freelance physicians. It is hospitalist medicine meets the gig economy, for all intents and purposes.

Forbes contributor Jon Younger knows of at least one private company offering this very service. The company is Greenville, South Carolina’s Ob Hospitalist Group (OBHG). The company provides 24/7 service to more than 180 hospitals across 33 states.

Two Traditional Models

To understand the impact of the OBHG model, you first have to understand the two traditional models that form its foundation. Let’s start with how hospitalists normally work.

A hospitalist is a doctor directly employed by a hospital to provide day-to-day patient care. Most hospitalists are internists, but there are always exceptions to the rule. A hospitalist works his or her shift before passing patients to the next clinician whose shift follows.

The locum tenens model utilizes contractors who come in and fill temporary staffing holes on a short-term basis. Your average locum tenens assignment runs anywhere from 3 to 6 months. Locums come in and take over from other clinicians who may be on long-term leave, on sabbatical, or who have already left to take a position elsewhere.

Both models are viable options for meeting hospital staffing needs. But there are obvious holes they do not cover. Obstetrics is one such hole. This is where OBGH steps in.

The Freelance Model

Let us refer to what OBGH does as the freelance model so as to differentiate it from locum tenens. According to Younger, OBGH recruits OB/GYNs willing to commit to anywhere from three to eight 24-hour shifts per month. When his or her shift comes up, the clinician temporarily becomes a hospitalist.

Any mothers arriving at the hospital in labor will have access to high-quality, professional care even if their own doctors aren’t available. As for those doctors, they don’t have to put their lives on hold waiting for expectant mothers to go into labor. They can live normal lives with the expectation that the hospitalist will keep things under control.

Adapting It to Other Disciplines

This new model works well for obstetrics given the unpredictable nature of giving birth. A hospital with guaranteed coverage becomes more attractive to expectant mothers who know that a trained obstetrician is always on site. That’s great. But is the model adaptable to other disciplines?

In theory, yes. Hospitalists don’t have to be internists. In addition, companies like OBGH don’t have to limit their services to obstetrics. They could provide coverage for trauma surgery, radiology, neonatal care, and emergency medicine. The model could prove especially beneficial for psychiatric care.

As things now stand, emergency department physicians don’t have the capacity to effectively help psychiatric patients. Moreover, an ED might not have direct access to a local psychiatrist willing to come in at a moment’s notice to see patients. A freelance hospitalist who specializes in psychiatry is the perfect solution.

This new model of combining traditional hospitalists with locum tenens is proving itself worthy, even in its earliest stages. It will be exciting to see where the model goes in the future.