Wednesday, July 09, 2003

A Scary Stupid Work Moment

Once I wound up on a short duration project at a major east coast HMO. This was my first foray into the civilian sector since my summer jobs in high school. Since then, all I’ve worked was military (active duty), followed by consultant jobs with various government agencies and entities. I was looking forward to working in a ‘civilian’ environment, because… well, these guys were ‘for profit’ and had to have their act together. Right?

During my first week, I sat down to skim through the raw data in the database I would be working with. I wrote a few quick queries to familiarize myself with how things fit together, and started narrowing my search to the specific area I would be working with first.

I called up a specific set of records and my heart sank immediately. This patient was pregnant, had her baby, and died during delivery. Man, that sucks.

Next patient, same thing.

Next patient, same thing. (Ulp!) Same doctor!!!!

Next… oh hell. I was horrified, and immediately went to see my client. I spent an awkward moment trying to dance around what I found without actually saying it straight out (I mean, at best this was malpractice, at worst it was murder). The client caught my drift, smiled brightly and informed me that there was a bug in the software and that once a quarter every pregnant woman in the patient database was listed as deceased.

My heart started again, and then she floored me by telling me that it’s been happening for years. They just reset the records and everything is ok again.

Yeah, don’t fix the problem. Just clean up the mess afterwards. Wonderful.

When I work for the Government, I expect it to be stupid and fucked-up. It was a major letdown to discover that a well-respected and successful civilian corporation worked the exact same way.

One more thing, this later led to another realization. According to this HMO, just because you die doesn't mean your coverage ends. A next-of-kin has to notify the HMO in writing that you're dead or they'll just keep charging you your monthly premium. And they are agressive about sending the collection agency after their money. Isn't that caring?