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June 9, 2020

When the Water Recedes

[Part Two in a series.  Click here for Part One.]

I have wondered what went through my great grandfather’s mind in that moment when he had to acknowledge defeat.  The river, the rains, the flood won.  Dan Dan and his bootlegged bulldozer hadn’t so much as surrendered as been engulfed, literally and figuratively.

I am sure he and the other farmers did what we do when there is a natural disaster, what we’ve all been doing as we try to process the coronavirus – we stand and marvel at the destruction, looking for a new anecdote or factoid to help drive home the magnitude.  Today, we steal memes and quips from social media as we try to drop a new one in conversation with the neighbors.  The internet is no match for the colorful euphemisms that a bunch of redneck farmers would share at the feed store to describe a generational flood.

What we are really doing as we share these tidbits is just buying time until we can get back to work cleaning up, restarting.  If you have perpetual dirt under your fingernails, a little downtime is nice, but you are only really happy when you are working, doing what you were made to do.

I imagine that Dan Dan was out even before the water had fully receded trying to make the best of the situation, rolling up his sleeves to plant the next round of crops.  He was on my paternal side, but my mom came from the same farmer stock.  A tough lady, she would only allow about three minutes of moping after something bad happened before she was in your face and saying, ‘You can’t change that, so now what are you going to do?’

Pick yourself up, get to work.

That is where we are now.

Getting back at it is weird and sluggish.  No part of your practice was designed to work with all these barriers – patients in masks and distance and video screens.  Patient care is, by its very definition, close and intimate and personal.  Heck, often it involves some awkward level of nudity.

I was talking to one of our clients, a pediatrician, and asked how telemedicine was going.  She was happy to have it, but her frustration was obvious.  If you become a pediatrician, you love and value contact with kids.  It is one of your most important tools.  Even my orthopedic surgeon, who is about as cuddly as a radiator, wants to grab and twist my shoulder.

We’ll get it rolling, we’ll figure it out.  Hey, we’ve (mostly…somewhat…OK, a little) figured out the dang EMR, so we can probably manage having patients text that they are in the parking lot.

Here’s the hard news…

You need to get this restart thing figured out quickly because there is a much bigger task in front of you.  Remember, there is a good chance that part of your business, maybe a meaningful part, is now in the middle of the river and never coming back.  What are you going to do about that?

We’ll go there next time.

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.