Sunday, August 28, 2011

Canadian dogs on drugs

This is what happens when you get your data model wrong.

I subscribe to RISKS digests, and the latest issue has an interesting post on a poor Canadian bloke who got confused with his dog.

The dog was on some prescription medicine. Dogs can't go into the local pharmacy and buy this stuff themselves, so the owner performed this duty. The drug purchase/pickup got entered into the nationwide recording system against the purchaser's name.

The problem comes when this guy goes into hospital and that purchase shows up on his records. There's no indication that the drugs are actually intended for a different recipient (Cooper the dog) so the doctors didn't know this. Fortunately the owner was conscious and lucid and able to tell the doctor that he wasn't on those drugs and the mixup got sorted.

It is perfectly reasonable to have a pharmacy record that doctors in hospitals can easily refer to so that they can find out what medications a patient is on. My dad takes various pills for things, and i'd be pretty sure he won't remember the individual names. Plus they deal with accidents and cases where the patient may be unconscious or unable to talk.

I suspect they've also started to use the same pharmacy records to pick up people who buy too much of particular drugs. Here in Oz they've gone as far as to stop selling various cold remedies whose ingredients were used in making illegal drugs. So drug purchases for pets get thrown into the same bit bucket.

The problem is that corruption of the data model, of the meaning of the data, has impacted the primary purpose of the system. Keep your data clean folks

1 comment:

Joel Garry said...

I can't help but wonder if this was a federation problem. I notice (at least on the US ones I've seen) that there generally tends to be a parent record of whoever is covered by the insurance, and child records of whoever else is covered. So I'm guessing that the dog, not being human, lacked the proper child record, and so was assumed to be the parent. In other words, no proper foreign key constraint.

What frightens me is all the mobile apps to front-end on this stuff, winning entrepreneurial awards. What attracts investors may be the opposite of technical competence.

Long-time fan o' risks!

word: enticar