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March 5, 2020

Fragility and Resilience

Well, the new sport taking the nation by storm is ‘Corona Upping,’ the game in which you try to find something new and novel to say about the virus to whoever happens to be around, be they friend or stranger.

Serious players constantly scan news sites and Twitter in search of the latest tidbit or anecdote that would give them points for being on the leading edge of the news.  Scoring is subjective, of course, but citing either the CDC, WHO, or a guy you know who works for an international firm whose buddy recently returned from Vietnam, which is not China but is close enough, gets you bonus points.

It is not my intent to make light of the situation, though the very idea of my flirting with it probably tips me off as being a ‘viro-optimist’ instead of a ‘viro-pessimist.’  Heck, I am writing this post from the petri dish known as an airplane cabin as I fly to a national conference that has not (yet) been canceled.  Yes, spit in the face of danger.  Though, just in case my wife happens to read this post, yes, I washed my hands six times this morning just traveling through the airport to my gate.  The line at the sink is now as long as getting through security.

Like most of us, I have no idea which way this thing will break.  Even experts will tell us that the plausible scenarios vary wildly, enough so that regardless of your position on the ‘panic – just chill’ continuum, you can find evidence to support your decisions.

However, in spite of my personal optimism and decision to run headlong into a hotel ballroom with hundreds of walking epidemiological risk pools wearing name tags, the accelerating news of cancellations and closures and voluntary self-quarantines did get me thinking about the fragility of businesses, small ones in particular, a broad category that encompasses most physician practices.

A food industry consultant recently noted that most restaurant operators run on such thin cash flow that being closed for three weeks in a row would bankrupt them.  That might be dire, but it is probably not a total fabrication and I am sure similar prognostications could be made about small businesses across many industries.

Times like this can send us into a tailspin, but they can also prompt some valuable reflection and long-term insights.  Small businesses, including your practice, are fragile even when healthy.   Things like a global pandemic are, by definition, hard to predict, but some risks have a high enough probability of occurring to merit some preventative action.  Be diligent.

On the other hand, I am an optimist and am armed with hand sanitizer.  Time and again organizations have absorbed unexpected blows and managed through them.  Fight on.

Tim Coan
Tim Coan

CEO and founder

Tim Coan, ALN’s CEO, writes an insightful and witty blog weekly about a variety of topics relevant to independent physician practices.