Tech Tales From Hell presents..

Collecting The Stats

Andys Tech Tales In Sydney the health department had been gathering relevant statistics for longer than most other mental health services - in the world. Consequently the Department of Psychiatry was always in great demand in terms of research data. The system itself was an ageing database written in Borland Paradox 3.5 which struggled with our 10 000 or so registered patients and associated data. Its data tables periodically shat themselves in protest.

The nature of the data collection was that all clinical staff were supposed to enter what they did, with whom and for how long. As a community nurse I used to keep a list of stat codes in my diary and would religiously enter my week's work on a Friday afternoon. It's always easier to keep up than to catch up with such things. If it kept the management off my arse, then all the better.

In my experience most clinical staff - everywhere - hate having to account for what they've been up to. But begrudgingly we did as we were asked. It's amazing how creative you can be when you have to. However a significant portion of the staff were less than reliable with their stats, despite the repeated requests from administration. This intransigent minority, for various reasons, gave few or no stats at all.

Management weren't going to give up however. Those stats were gonna get got. The Director of Nursing called John and myself into his office one day.

"How's the stat collection going for this month, John?"

"Same as ever mate. The usual regulars fill them in, the usual recalcitrants don't."

As the IT guys, John and I had the onerous task of collecting and collating all the data from around the Area and delivering it to management. Then the DoN would get heavy and kick some butt with those who were not entering their statistics properly. It was a monthly routine.

The Big Man continued, "I think a change of tack is called for. Our fine Mr Mallett here is a clinician himself and is quite good with people in general. Even doing advanced psychotherapy training aren't you Mr M?"

"Yes, guv." I could see where this was leading.

"Well then John, why don't we send our Mr Mallett here out to do some of his excellent work with some of these erm difficult staff, to help them with their statophobia, as it were."

"Good idea mate. He's a people person through and through. Couldn't think of a better bloke for the job."

Well there was only John and myself in the IT team in those days and he was the boss. Which naturally meant Andy gets all the crap jobs including educating the clinical staff about the importance of statistics. What fun.

Anyway I did have some success using my wit and charm to leverage a bit more paperwork out of these people. The thing I hated most was that come collection day, the slack set would be profusely apologetic with me for not having done their stats and would offer me all sorts of favours and excuses, like it was me they had to answer to. Some of the favours were alright..

I would insist that really, I didn't give a rat's arse about whether they did their stats or not and that they were answerable to management and not me. But for some it just didn't seem to sink in. Erstwhile colleagues quivered in corridors or turned and fled the other way when they saw me coming. I realised I had crossed the line, that I too was slowly becoming John Honey Jnr: a man to be feared.

Moving from clinical work to IT, I was located in the main administration building, a sort of Oval Office at Rozelle Hospital in Sydney. I found myself spending much more time rubbing shoulders with Directors of Nursing, Professors of Psychiatry, hospital administrators and other ambitious individuals, sycophants and trolls.

IT departments are funny places with a peculiar status. You're not necessarily management, but you may be perceived as such by the clinical proletariat. And perception is reality. An IT department can be a bit of a law unto itself and is often set apart from the standard hierarchy of workers and management.

And sometimes this meant I found myself at the wrong end of the 'Shoot The Messenger' Syndrome. Can't please everybody..just do your stats and shut up!

- AndyM

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