Thursday, 15 January 2009

Not PJ: Pharmacy Floppy Flip Flop

Bernard Darnton boldly visits the pharmacy with his floppy in hand, an account of which you can efficiently and effectively peruse on this web log over an interconnection network...

It’s time for a change. Change we can be flabbergasted at. At the end of last year the Ministry of Health proudly announced that (some) pharmacies would now be able to lodge subsidy claims electronically. Instead of by posting in floppy disks.

For younger readers, a "floppy disk" is a square of stiff plastic with a delicate scrap of computer storage inside it. It’s like a fragile, error-prone memory stick but ten times the size and capable of storing 0.001 gigabytes of data. In iPod terms that’s like having as much as a quarter of a song in your pocket.

I remember berating one my clients five years ago about using floppy disks. I’d asked for some data and he came back to me bearing this square plastic thing. I lashed him with my bullwhip because I’m a software consultant, not a fucking archaeologist.

He’s no longer a client but I think I was making a valid point.

Until December every pharmacy in the country had to post a floppy disk to the Ministry of Health each fortnight. Which means that they also had to find someone who still makes the bloody things. And presumably every pharmacy in the country had to keep some decrepit fifteen-year old computer in service because you can’t buy a computer with a floppy drive in it any more. Just to cater to the Ministry’s prehistoric whims. (They could always not ask for government subsidies but that’s a different topic.)

I assume there was someone employed full time at the Ministry of Health to open the mail, find all of these floppy disks and then copy the data somewhere or other. My guess is that it was this same bumbling jobsworth who refused to let anyone submit their files by email. “Oooh, no, couldn’t possibly. There’s this policy manual see. Very important that procedures are followed. We do it this way for a reason, you know. More than my job’s worth to go breaking them rules. Now, where’s the tea lady. I need a cup of tea and a scone before my nap.”

A highly-placed source in the Ministry has revealed that their flagship information system for the twenty-first century, containing electronic records for the entire New Zealand health sector, is $200 million over budget with progress at a halt because the Ministry’s IT department has been placed under a preservation order by the Historic Places Trust.

Somehow, the new electronic claims system has staggered to fruition. Alan Hesketh, Deputy Director-General of the Ministry of Health’s Information Directorate, is very proud of this “initiative.” Apparently it’s “aimed at improving the efficiency and effectiveness of health payment processes across the sector through a secure and reliable interconnection network.”

If the Ministry’s spin doctors are paid by the word I think I’ve just found a way to save millions from the health budget. A tip, Alan: I realise that back in floppy-disk land this “interconnection network” is probably very new and exciting but here in the twenty-first century people just call it “the internet.”

* * Read Bernard Darnton every Thursday on this web log. * *


  1. Pharmacies should be grateful that the MOH is not still using smoke signals.

    Now please excuse me while I go and bank up the fire. I need to send a message to my base hospital.

  2. "...because the Ministry’s IT department has been placed under a preservation order by the Historic Places Trust."

    W... T... F...!!!

    So stupid on so many levels...


1. Commenters are welcome and invited.
2. All comments are moderated. Off-topic grandstanding, spam, and gibberish will be ignored. Tu quoque will be moderated.
3. Read the post before you comment. Challenge facts, but don't simply ignore them.
4. Use a name. If it's important enough to say, it's important enough to put a name to.
5. Above all: Act with honour. Say what you mean, and mean what you say.