My first work computer was a standalone Compaq; pretty fancy stuff in healthcare technology at the time. A simple function first used was in a laboratory that was putting on a health fair. What this computer did was compile and organize patient demographic data (manually entered), attach cholesterol and glucose results (the input was again manual) to a form letter, and print out labels for mailing. WOW!! It was amazing! As I stood in the hall outside the main lab, on my smoke break (yes, that’s right….I can hardly believe it myself) I watched the computer spit out letters and labels. It was genius! But what did it really do? It sorted in multiple ways, it organized the data, it created a data base of information that could be queried (and we did). It printed letters and labels that looked professionally done and brought value to patients. Those who had high cholesterol and glucose, were referred to a provider for follow-up. Those who had normal results felt better about themselves.
We used a laboratory clerk with typing skills to enter the demographic data and the results. We had to pull her from her “normal duties” and create space for her and the computer so manual entry could be done. We tested extensively. Ok, what we really did was play around with options that was more fun than work at the time and found out there were things we could do that we didn’t even realize we wanted to…in later years described as “positive unintended consequences” – a term we didn’t know in the 80’s.
We also had to think about workflow. The health fair was held at a mall, so we had to create a way to label specimen tubes to know which patients went with which tubes. Then tThey had to be transported back to lab where they were manually run through instruments by lab technologists. The results were given to the clerk who manually entered them into the computer. As patient demographic data had already been entered while tests were being run, we really didn’t have to match anything; the computer did that for us.
With this manually entered data, we created a data base of information. This was really the coolest part. Now we had the opportunity to query results by, let’s say, zip code. It really didn’t mean anything to us at the time, but we could do it.
So what is it we need computers to do for us today?
- Organize demographics and data
- Create a database of information to query
- Print out professional looking and readable documents
- Match results with patients
- Follow-up on patients that have results requiring medications or behavior modification
- Enhance communication and patient engagement
What do you have to do to work efficiently and productively in a computer environment?
- Find logical space for equipment and printers
- Think about workflow
- Learn the computer – play around with options and figure out what it can really do for you
- Choose the right people for the right jobs
- Have fun with it instead of only seeing it as drudgery
- Use the results of the computer use to bring value to patients
Looks like while our world is very different from the 1980s……some things haven’t changed at all!