A badly designed medical-information form provokes a rant about being sloppy and some consideration about when being careful really matters.
Are you planning to get pregnant in the next three months?
I look around. No, it’s just me and the Big Guy in the room, and he’s busy with his own clipboard. This medical information form must be talking to me.
Maybe it’s my own fault for having humoured it thus far. After all, I didn’t balk at the previous question—Are you pregnant?—so I may have lost my right to object to this line of questioning.
I look over at the Big Guy. Maybe I should get his opinion. I mean, I know I’m not pregnant now, but we often have different views on what the future will bring.
Am I planning to get pregnant in the next three months?
Playing it straight, as usual, he responds without looking up.
I look for a place to write in a comment: perhaps, See date of birth, above. I look in vain.
So I check the ‘No’ box and carry on. What’s next? Are you breastfeeding? Sigh.
Five minutes later, I have completed my form, providing the information that is apparently necessary for the doctor to determine which vaccinations and medications I require for the 10-day trip the Big Guy and I are taking to the Galapagos.
I have provided information that is called (disconcertingly in any remotely medical context) my ‘tombstone’ information: name, date of birth, gender.
I have dutifully recorded my Ontario Health Insurance Program number, even though neither travel vaccinations nor the doctor consultation required to get said vaccinations are, in fact, covered under this program. I wonder whether this medical office is aware of the privacy guideline that only pertinent information should be collected.
I have transcribed my previous vaccinations from my World Health Organization record-of-vaccination booklet, checked it twice, and wondered why I am copying information from one paper form to another, for further entry into an electronic record.
I have responded to not one, but two, double-columned lists of questions about my medical history. Asthma? Cancer? Heart problems? Psychiatric illness? AIDS? Lupus? Diabetes? Respiratory problems? Hypertension? No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, and no, damn it, although the hypertension question stops me for a moment. I suspect that my blood pressure, in this exact moment, is not at its 52-week low, unlike my portfolio which seems always to be there, impossible though I know that to be.
I have answered the aforementioned questions about my reproductive and nursing status. Nuff said.
And I have answered a question about drug allergies. Twice. Are they running a data validity check on my answers, I wonder, or is it just a sloppy form?
My money is on the latter.
It costs money to do things well. I get that. To eliminate the silliness just on this two-page form, for example, would require not just an edit to eliminate the irrelevancy and redundancy, but a redesign. As one example, it would take some thinking to divert people around questions that do not apply: to ask the pregnancy and breastfeeding questions only of women of child-bearing age.
But what’s the benefit that would justify that cost? I mean, people fill in the form whether the questions make sense for them or not, don’t they? They do.
Well, the Big Guy and I do. I can’t speak for other people.
As we wait for the doctor, I ponder the role of sloppiness in the world. For individuals, being sloppy in some things would seem to be an expected part of being human. Indeed, we have a derogatory name for people who do absolutely everything meticulously. For organizations, being sloppy in some things is likely necessary to success. Not everything worth doing is worth doing well, as Tom West said. If quick and dirty ‘work,’ well then, Git ’r done!, as Larry the Cable Guy tells us.
Of course, what ‘works’ is a judgement call. A form need not be a thing of beauty—it’s not the Book of Kells, after all—but it should gather necessary and valid data that can be transcribed reliably.
And here, more than on the baby-making questions that had me looking for places to write in a pointed comment, this form failed the test.
Hours after leaving the doctor’s office, I am talking to a pharmacist. One of the the prescriptions I was given cannot be filled, because it is for a medication to which I am allergic. Yes, that self-same allergy I noted twice on the form.
Some things, it turns out, really must be done well.