Tales from the data entry trenches

When a family member underwent a series of minor medical procedures recently, I got a front-row view of the hospital's data entry systems. As I'm sure is also true elsewhere, it wasn't a pretty picture. The ordeal begins at the registration desk where, no matter how many visits you've made recently -- perhaps even on the same day! -- you're required to "verify your information." It's always bugged me to listen to someone read off, from a screen, such facts as date of birth, address, employer, and insurer. But when the procedure is repeated at the surgical registration desk, it becomes a flagrant HIPAA violation. Anyone within earshot is made privy to information the hospital has sworn to safeguard.

Once you're admitted, each exam room and lab that you visit requires its own consent form. They're all identical, so you wind up repeating the same information that you just painstakingly verified, scribbling it onto one piece of paper after another.


I've griped before about Microsoft's weird reluctance to saturate the market with copies of InfoPath. And I've suggested that a competitor might leverage open source (Mozilla) and open standards (XForms) to create a ubiquitous next-generation platform for data collection. One way or another, something's got to give. Locating human proxies between customers and our database records isn't cheap, reliable, or secure. [Full story at InfoWorld.com]

We normally think of self-service as a way to reduce cost. Push people to the web, and you can reduce or eliminate human operators. But that view short-changes the affirmative value of self-service. It's a way to restore some of the dignity that is otherwise eroded by institutional protocols. Customers who control their own information feel less helpless. Operators freed from data entry become available for a job worthier of human talent: good old-fashioned customer service.

Former URL: http://weblog.infoworld.com/udell/2004/12/02.html#a1125