A recent headline in my local newspaper* at first had me wondering at the news sense of the editor: "Post Office patrons not shocked by possible closings." What kind of story is this? A non-reaction to a possible event? It certainly did not meet the "man bites dog" standard.
But then I read further, and I found that there is a real story here, and a warning for people in health care: You are not as essential as you think. There are disruptive forces in these fields that can make you obsolete.
The purpose of this story was to document community reaction about the possible closing of some neighborhood post offices, arising from the business problems faced by the USPS. Here are some of the comments:
Jim Rectra isn’t surprised by the news. The Waltham man said he lives about a mile from the West Newton post office, but uses the service sparingly. “I don’t use the post office that much,” Rectra said. “I try to do everything online.”
At the Lower Falls office on Washington Street, Molly Grant wasn’t disappointed to learn the location might shut its doors. Grant, a Weston resident, said she’s not thrilled with the service at Lower Falls. “I really only come for the convenience,” she said.
Even Barney Frank, the US Congressman, said: "This one is one where it’s not my opinion that counts, but people in the neighborhood.” Barney never admits that his opinion doesn't count and never misses a chance to fight for his constituents, but that's only when he is pretty sure of winning the issue and garnering votes thereby. Here, he knows that neither is likely.
What has happened, clearly, is that the public's perceived need for these facilities and their services has diminished greatly. Whether it is on-line purchases of postage or bypassing postage altogether by using email, Skype, and other social media, the infusion of new choices has relegated the local post office to the status of the Model T. Boy, it's nice to see one, but I don't think I need one.
Clay Christensen has reached similar conclusions about general hospitals. Disruptive forces are at work that should compel hospital administrators to rethink their business model. This is especially the case for academic medical centers, which are burdened by even more significant overhead costs than a regular general hospital.
I have discussed this before, when I noted:
The lessons here for high fixed cost academic medical centers are clear. Academic medical centers face all of the problems of two stressed industries -- academia and medicine. The future will belong to the efficient. Hospitals that are driven by their senior faculty and hopeful junior faculty to expand buildings and research facilities, that invest in high-cost but unproven clinical equipment, that do not engage in front-line driven process improvement, that fight transparency of clinical outcomes -- and that plan to depend on private and government reimbursements, government grants, and philanthropy to pay for all this -- will not do well. Those that limit capital investment in inflexible fixed assets, that focus on higher quality and reducing waste, that endorse transparency, that invest in the science of health care delivery as much as basic science, and that develop and implement treatment modes that take care to the patient rather than requiring physical visits by patients, will do well.
* Newton Tab, Vol. 34, No. 15, August 10-16, 2011. Page 1. The online edition is here, with a different headline.