Locumunity Sits Down with Business in Vancouver
Locumunity CEO and co-founder, Dr. Haneen Abu-Remaileh sits down with Business in Vancouver to give an honest and in-depth interview about how Locumunity is offering more work flexibility for physicians and the pushback received from some government bodies.
Listen to the interview here. Transcription available below.
Tyler Orton: Our next guest is somebody who no doubt relates to the stresses of work schedules, judging by the startup she has just co-founded back in 2017. Locumunity is an online job posting site for clinics and physicians looking to fill in some placements. And with us now is Dr. Haneen Abu-Remaileh, co-founder of Locumunity.
Dr. Haneen Abu-Remaileh: Thank you for having me.
Tyler Orton: So, I have to ask you this. Do you find you’re having your own struggles with finding a flexible work schedule or was this really something that was not hard to figure out based on what you’re seeing with colleagues?
Dr. Abu-Remaileh: It was basically what I was seeing with colleagues. I did my medical schooling here at UBC but went to Calgary for my residency training in family medicine and built up a professional network there over two years. There is a lot of travel in medicine. The national matching system happens after you graduate med school so medical students end up anywhere in the country for their residency training.
And when I graduated, there was a strong pull to move back home to Vancouver. When I moved back, I left that professional network I had built which is a common scenario for a lot of graduating residents. And my question was ‘where do doctors find jobs?’ And what I wanted to do was practice as a substitute doctor, termed “locum tenens” (shortened to “locums” in the industry).
So, I wanted to locum or provide coverage for doctors who were going on vacation/leave and I had very high demand for such coverage. A lot of physicians feel trapped in their practices, unable to step away for whatever reason whether it’s a leave or vacation, etc. And the only way that these doctors could find me was through word of mouth or in the hallways. And yeah, through word of mouth I would be booked a year and a half in advance with people asking me ‘can you please cover me next August’.
Tyler Orton: Wow!
Dr. Abu-Remaileh: Yeah! And I just kept seeing physician burnout mentioned in the medical literature, with over 50 percent of primary care physicians experiencing burnout. There was a big CMA study that came out about that this year but this is well documented in the literature. And one of the top four reasons in Canada is inability to find coverage. Especially in smaller cities and rural areas – they really struggle to recruit and retain physicians. It’s national priority to find a better position recruitment strategy.
So, the idea of this centralized search tool kind of the Air BnB for physicians came to me when I experienced that friction. I kept getting reminded about it through the medical literature and I thought “I’m going to do something about it.” Because I think the solution is pretty simple and elegant here, not a complicated solution. And it took me some time to find a technical co-founder, but when I did, we started working on the part time. I never envisioned that this would take over my life, but it has [laughs].
So, we launched our beta in Canada April 2017 and got great traction. We have currently about 1,400 physicians across the country, 300 clinics and we had the opportunity to apply and get accepted to Techstars Seattle which is a prestigious accelerator and that was kind of the decision maker for ‘are we all willing to go on this full time’. And so that was January of this year and we did. It was my mat leave. I had a three month old baby [laughs].
So everyone moved to Seattle for about 4 months to attend Techstars, which was great an awesome experience. And then, we came back to Canada and implemented a lot of the things we learned about how to grow a marketplace. What we have is a 2-sided marketplace that we not only have to get physicians on the platform, but also populate jobs on the platform. So yeah, we’ve done well and I think our biggest limitation as a startup is budget, especially marketing budget etc. and having physicians know that we exist as a resource.
Tyler Orton: Well, I’m very fascinated here with regards and you alluded to this just a moment ago but that kind of transition that you’re making right now from being a physician into getting into did business side of things you said is kind of taking over your life to a certain degree. How is the transition been going for you at this point?
Dr. Abu-Remaileh: I am very lucky in that as the locum physician is kind of the freelancer of medicine. It’s becoming more and more popular, and what allows me to do this. Medicine is my passion and life calling and so, I see this as an extension of my role as a physician by solving an issue on a systemic level.
For me, I’m able to still keep my medical license by practicing – I do baby deliveries, two call shift a month on the weekends and then occasionally, pick up half a day here and there at clinics through my own platform actually.
So, it helps not only keep my licensing credibility as a physician but also, has really helped me grow my business. I’m very lucky in that way and that maintaining both roles (being a physician and CEO and not letting go of the physician side) is very crucial to growing the business, thankfully. Because internally, I didn’t go to medical school thinking I’d create a business.
Tyler Orton: Sure.
Dr. Abu-Remaileh: I see this as solving a problem, yeah.
Tyler Orton: I love the idea that you’re able to use your own platform to solve this issue and maintain your own passion going forward. That’s kind of a great sort of universal story, right?
Dr. Abu-Remaileh: Yeah, let me just explain a little bit about how the platform works. Like I said, it’s an online centralized marketplace that directly connects job-seeking physician with locum opportunities at clinics across Canada. We’re a tech enabled platform. So we are very data driven and community driven. My co-founder and CTO comes from a market research background. We’re collecting data points at every point in the physician job search process, creating live feedback loops for the employer on their job postings.
Eventually, as we gather more data, we can create predictable models and be able to use a little bit of machine learning and AI. You know, three clinics may be looking for a family doctor and I’m a family physician but I may fit very well into one clinic but not the two others. So what is it on my credentials that create that culture fit, and to be able to really tease out how can we transcend beyond the job posting board and be this data driven platform.
Tyler Orton: Curiously, is or bit of a push and pull that you face as you look to gain traction as you look to apply this to other jurisdictions? Obviously, there’s a dire need for this amongst the physician community. Are you getting any pushback at all from different jurisdictions that are like well wait a minute, would this really work within our government or our agency for example?
Dr. Abu-Remaileh: Yeah. I mean look, when I started this, I did research. Do I create this as a not-for-profit or do I go the for-profit route? And I talked to a lot of business advisors, who strongly recommended if I wanted something that’s going to make change, grow quickly, attract capital, attract talent that I would have to go the for-profit route. And part of being a startup is being nimble and quick and not waiting for months and months to enforce action or create change.
And yes, I mean I think I was disappointed a little bit in that I thought I’m a physician innovating. I not only identified a problem that was well recognized as a priority nationally, but also came up with a solution and implemented it. I thought there would be more support. There’s a lot of talk right now about supporting physician innovation, but I truly felt that once I did take that step and presented something, there was quite a bit of pushback from governmental organizations.
For example, one of the things that we were doing is aggregate the job search on to our platform. Any public job posting that was out there, we were centralizing it on our platform, and linking back to the original job posting. So sparing physicians their time. Instead of checking ten job posting boards, being able to check just the one job posting board, with links out to the original postings that you’re interested in.
I actually just received a cease and desist order from one of– I won’t name– but one of the governmental organizations asking me to stop centralizing and aggregating their jobs onto our platform. And in my mind, taxpayers’ money is going towards this government organization and their mandate is to find coverage for the family doctors that they’re posting jobs for. And so, I think the Canadian government has been pretty good about open data and encouraging that… But I think in medicine and health care, that there’s still definitely a lack of realization that if you open up this data, then private companies can find better ways and solve solutions quickly that can help the ecosystem in general.
Tyler Orton: Well, I think really if we bring it back to that physician burnout question, I would hope that we can get some recognition of how dire this is. How do you envision a platform like this actually helping say the medical system overall in Canada moving forward?
Dr. Abu-Remaileh: Yeah, I think there’s a lot of benefits to it. One is that family physicians won’t feel trapped in their practices. For example, we had a family physician who was on maternity leave and was only able to find coverage for four months and ideally, she had wanted to take six months with her baby and Locumunity was able to extend that coverage for her because they connected her with a wide pool of local physician. And so, she was very grateful and she’s one of the avid supporters.
But that’s one story of many and we’ve met so many doctors throughout. I’ve gone clinic to clinic to tell physicians in the Lower Mainland about this resource, and the stories of I’ve heard of physicians who haven’t taken a proper vacation for 20 years sometimes… They would take a long weekend and that’s about it. It’s crazy to think about and so that’s about helping physicians with relief and finding coverage for their patients so that they are able to step away from the practice.
Yeah, it’s encouraging young physicians I think. There has definitely been a shift away from young physicians who are graduating to create a permanent practice and for me, it was like that too. I thought during my training that the stress and burnout and I knew that if I would have a young family — which now I do, two young kids – then the maternity leave would be difficult. If I wasn’t a locum, I would have had to have found coverage for my practice, and the headache of doing was a deterrent for young physician to create a permanent practice.
And then for patients, if your physician just closes their office for a week, you’re ending up at a walk-in clinic at seeing a doctor who has no access to your records versus having seen a substitute doctor at your physician’s clinic who just continues your care. So I think it definitely touches upon the triple aim for the patients happiness, the physicians wellness and the system of working all together to improve the health benefits.
Tyler Orton: Well, doctor, I think it’s always great to see innovation within the health sector here and I think if anybody’s interested in finding out more, go ahead and look up Locumunity. In the meantime, thanks for joining us on program today.
Dr. Abu-Remaileh: Thank you very much for having me.
Tyler Orton: That is Dr. Haneen Abu-Remaileh. She is the co-founder of Locumunity and that’s it for the show today.