Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Better Never Than Late

I often complain that the typical organizational IT infrastructure is too complicated and often not well-suited for the clinical lab. I am often asked to given an example, but so far my examples of complexity were, themselves, overly complicated and apparently quite boring.

Well, all that changed recently: now I have nifty example of what I mean.

One of our customers has a fabulous print spooling system: many pieces of hardware, many lines of code, all intended to ensure that your precious print job eventually emerges from a printer, no matter what issues may arise with your network. Best of all, you route all printing through it and it works automagically.

The fancy print job spooler is so smart, it can reroute print jobs from off-line printers to equivalent on-line printers. It is so smart it can hold onto a print job for you, "buffer" it, until an appropriate printer comes on-line.

Alas, neither of these features is a good fit for the clinical labs, at least for specimen labels. The ideal specimen label prints promptly and right beside the person who needs it. If the label cannot be printed, then the print job should disappear: the user will have had to use a hand-written label or some other downtime alternative. Printing the label latter is, at best, annoying. At worst, printing the label later is confusing and leads to mis-identified specimens. For this job, better never than late.

With effort, our client disabled the roaming print job feature, so the labels (almost) always print where they are needed. But the buffer cannot be turned off--it is the whole point of the spooler, after all--and so after downtime, the now-unwanted labels suddently come pumping out of the printers and if the draw station happens to be busy, the old labels mingle with the current labels and opportunities for serious errors abound.

Print spoolers are nifty. They serve office workers well. They are a standard part of today's smart IT infrastructure. But they don't serve the clinical lab in any real sense. The clinical lab is not a typical office environment: don't treat it like one.

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