Saturday, July 12, 2008

"We have introduced a new automated system to improve our services."

Saturday morning is a time for catching up on personal chores that have be deferred during a busy week. This week the chore list was greater because I had been away for a month and my work-day (normally 8 AM to about 8 PM) efficiency was reduced by jet lag.

One chore - renewing a prescription I receive from my ‘health care provider,’ Kaiser Permanente called to mind a contemporary social-economic pathology I find particularly aggravating. Kaiser has had an automated prescription renewal system for several years. The layers of insulation between the system and an intelligent human being have become ever more difficult to penetrate. However the skills that serve me well as American University’s academic information technology director have helped me to penetrate its intricacies with reasonable success.

On my next to last renewal attempt, a more complex menu of options began with an announcement, “we have introduced a new automated system to improve our services.” The particulars, I discovered, were these: Prescriptions would now be filed by the ‘Kaiser Automated Prescription Refill Center.” Prescription numbers would change (one should always have a writing instrument at hand to take note of changes and instructions). The procedures were more complex. The refill time would now be 7 to 10 days rather than 5 to 7 days. “Improve our services?” For whom, I asked myself?

I am not picking on Kaiser Permanente. The problem is endemic. Some time ago, American University introduced an automated room scheduling system for events. The time for a response to be given to requests immediately increased from less than 24 hours to three days - the target - or much more.

As opposed to the ‘improve our services’ announcements that are customary when automated systems are introduced, I propose the following.

‘We have introduced a new automated system. Its purpose is to cut costs by reducing the size, competence and compensation level of our work force. Once the glitches are worked out we do expect to provide a minimally adequate level of service, though of lower quality than previously. We appreciate your patience and forbearance. If you choose not to be patient and forbear, we recommend that you find another provider. Press “7” for a menu of instructions on how to do so.”

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