back to article How long does it take an NHS doctor to turn on a computer?

Welcome again to On-Call, our regular look at situations readers have confronted when their phones ring at awkward hours and they're asked to fix things up. This week, we're sharing a tale told by reader Dan, who tells us: “A number of years ago I was in a second line tech support role at a hospital in South Devon.” Nice part …

And your point is?

Next up the consultant who thought the cd-rom caddy was a coffee cup holder.

Not sure I am getting the point of this story that happened a number of years ago and could equally be applied to a whole range of hard-pressed professionals for whom IT is an enabler not an end in itself.

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Re: And your point is?

Yeah but look at it this way. If one of the monitors the patient was hooked up to wasn't doing anything i.e. no lights blinking on the thing, it doesn't even take a medical professional to work out it might just not be plugged in. Similar to none mechanics working out there's no fuel in your car hence it won't start. There is an inexplicable fog that descends upon people where computers are concerned and this doctor was dealing with the basics of it being switched on at the mains rather than something faulty. Yes IT is just an enabler to some people but that's kind of like saying none of us should try CPR if we see someone having a heart attack and wait for someone professional instead.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: And your point is?

"... an inexplicable fog that descends ..." -- Martin Summers

Spot on. I believe computers being so necessary for modern life has resulted in many people being so far beyond their comfort zone that it prevents them from thinking clearly at all. A friend trojanned their computer by following instructions when "BT" phoned them up and asked them to do loads of things. They had contacted the real BT about internet problems; and thought it was perfectly normal that BT would phone up and ask them to make computer modifications. they were pretty surprised when I told them the analogy was dismantling your washing machine because someone from "Severn Trent" had phoned you up when you had previously contacted them about low water pressure.

To be fair, people like the ISPs have contributed to this problem by acclimatizing users to blindly following instructions, in a similar manner to some of the banks contributing to the phishing problem by not being able to resist contacting people by email.

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Re: And your point is?

You can be smart at one thing and dumb as a housebrick at others - lawyers fall for 419 scams, system administrators still call roofing companies. Different expertise progresses a society - it is impossible to know it all, so people specialise, and swap skills (often via the medium of a financial economy, too).

I'd rather that doctor got on with being dumb at IT and smart at fixing people rather than being shit at both jobs.

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Re: And your point is?

"I'd rather that doctor got on with being dumb at IT and smart at fixing people rather than being shit at both jobs."

Whilst I get your sentiment. It's not really about that. I don't want the doctor (or any other professional) to be good at IT but I would expect intelligent people (intelligent enough to become professional in the first place) to have a modicum of common sense when it comes to knowing whether something is going to work or not dependent on if it is plugged in. If they got home after a day at work and their TV wasn't working, you might think they'd check the plug. If the professional doesn't have that kind of common sense then that suggests that some of their professional decisions could possibly be questionable. Problem solving is not a profession dependant skill after all.

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Re: And your point is?

I've had people ask me if a remote control for their TV needs batteries fitted to work.

Tempted to say it works by magic.

Ordinary folks really have no clue how technology works.

Worse ones are those who claim the thing should just work without any input from them.

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Re: And your point is?

"I've had people ask me if a remote control for their TV needs batteries fitted to work."

Minor quibble, but the key fob for their car doesn't need batteries, nor do any number of "things that are sort of like a remote control," so it's not an entirely unreasonable question.

Either that, or it's one of those things where the battery hatch is completely hidden, or can't be opened without knowing the secret handshake.

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Facepalm

being shit at both jobs

You mean like an American doctor? Can't even properly diagnose a broken collarbone... [facepalm]

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Re: And your point is?

Just spend a while reading comments to the science section stories in the Daily Mail. There are an AWFUL lot of people around who would need instructions (in pictures) to drag their knuckles, let alone think.

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Re: And your point is?

Or hit the ON switch/button.

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Re: And your point is?

Please do not insult the knuckle draggers :)

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Re: And your point is?

...Minor quibble, but the key fob for their car doesn't need batteries, ...

erm - yes it does!

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Re: And your point is?

What? A car key fob most certainly has a battery in it.

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Re: A car key fob most certainly has a battery in it.

I suspect that many of these systems work on the principle of tuned circuits and resonance.

Many Burglar alarm keyfobs certainly do not contain a battery.

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Re: A car key fob most certainly has a battery in it.

Car keys do have a battery. It's charged when the key is in the ignition, via induction.

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Re: And your point is?

You forget that at this point they've been running from one side of the hospital to another for 14 hours straight with no break, nothing to drink or something to eat. Shouted at, argued with, comforted a family who child has just died. Spent an hour waiting for results from one system or another to print because printers are the spawn of Satan himself. Heel pricks, jabs, bags, drips, broken limbs and then there's the larger louts and pissed up arseholes, the attempted suicides and the successful the parents who bring their kids into A&E rather then buy some feckin calpol.

I've worked in IT all my life. I've also been a carer, and I'm married to a Dr I barely ever get to see because she's constantly working 13-15 hours a day, before driving home crashing for a few hours then going back to work. Granted, she wouldn't have made the mistake of not turning a computer on, but I, sitting at home with my laptop wouldn't have blamed her if she did.

Does common sense suffer with sleep deprivation? YES! Does that make them any less professional, no.

Yet our government is trying to remove the maximum working hours and drop their pay by upto 30% and most of the British public doesn't have a clue about it.

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Re: And your point is?

My car key fob needs a battery. Maybe you replace your cars before the key fob goes flat. One of my two key fobs has gone flat for a second time. Because it I'd a pain to open I get the garage to do it for two quid labour!

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Anonymous Coward

Re: And your point is?

We see this kind of thing all the time. I work in a research lab with more PhD's than you can shake a stick at and some of the things the boffins do is unreal. They HAVE to use IT to do their daily work and many of them have used IT for years but they just don't seem to be able to retain even the basics and ask the same questions (for which they get the same answer) time and time again. From plugging network cables in to phone sockets to not switching things on to trouble with understanding what the insert key does! Its endless. I often wonder how some of them can find there own way home at night!

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Anonymous Coward

Re: And your point is?

Is there a way home at night?

Yes, but it isn't your way -it's their way.

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Re: And your point is?

What? A car key fob most certainly has a battery in it.

Perhaps the OP was making the point that the keyfob has a battery fitted when new, does not have an obvious "battery door" and in fact rarely needs the battery changing before 4 or 5 years. Under those circumstances most "normal people" could be forgiven for thinking it didn't actually have a battery.

IT seems to be a particular problem for these people, and I used to illustrate it thusly:

Newly qualified driver breaks down at the side of the road. The car juddered and stopped and won't restart. S/he calls the AA/RAC who attend and quickly diagnose a lack of fuel.

"But I never had to put fuel in my driving instructor's car!"

M.

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Re: And your point is?

"But I never had to put fuel in my driving instructor's car!"

Yes but common sense dictates she understands the basic premise that a vehicle needs fuel. A computer does as well.

This is not specialist knowledge and anybody caught short in this manner would be subsequently thought of as stupid, regardless of profession.

Most likely reason he hung up so quickly without another word was because he realised the idiocy of his mistake, I have done some on that level, and have to live with my decisions and shame. -To Err is human

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Re: And your point is?

Err... they do need batteries! Or at least mine does.

Or do car keyfobs also work by magic?

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Anonymous Coward

90 minutes had elapsed

"By this point, 90 minutes had elapsed"

Well to me that shows an inability for Dan to speak fluent "user" . At the end of the day the problem was a simple one - the PC is turned off . All Dan had to do was instruct the Doctor to turn the machine on.

He would have to do this without patronising the user and making him look like an idiot - which gets increasingly difficult as the amout of time gone by without any noticable progress gets embassingly long.

He would also have to do it maintaing a cheery attitude and not get frustrated and snippy with the customer - also very hard the longer it goes on .

This is the skill of desktop support - especially remote.

I am sad that I know so much about this and less about system archtecture

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Re: 90 minutes had elapsed

If only you knew how many time i reiterated to the EU that there must be a PC tower, I got them to try and follow both cables from the back of the monitor, that they were still sure was the PC.

It was really bad, as if I was talking to a person that had never used, nor seen a computer in their life.

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Re: And your point is?

"key fob for their car doesn't need batteries"

Er, yes, if you want to continue pointing you key fob at the car to lock and unlock it, it does.

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Re: A car key fob most certainly has a battery in it.

Or not.

Mine does contain a battery (a 2032).

It's just not obvious and a bit tricky to get at it

(I have replaced it once - if I'd known it was a 2032 before I bought the replacement I'd not have gone to the VW parts dept for it ......)

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Re: And your point is?

There seems to be some confusion between key fobs (which attach to the key ring) and key transponders (which are built into the key).

Fobs transmit a signal to lock or unlock the doors. They certainly require a battery, which can go for years before it needs to be replaced.

Key transponders do not have a battery. They are powered by induction, and transmit a code while they are near (within a few cm) of the ignition lock. When away from the car, they have no power and don't transmit anything.

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I still can't get my head round this one

Over the years the number of people (teachers mostly) who think that turning the monitor off and on is the same as doing this to the computer. It was OK when I first started mixing educational IT support and training with my main education job. Thirty years ago people saw a monitor and thought it was a TV set. So I knew that they were good at our rather technical teaching role, but that using a computer was a new way of thinking for them.

But after a generation it is still happening. Staff would turn off the monitors at night, but leave the PCs running all weekend or potentially the whole Summer holidays. Often logged in too.

Or the times that I got a call saying that "the email isn't working" and they hadn't turned on the f***ing computer.

Thirty years ago I was dealing with people who grew up in the 1950s and earlier.

These days they've all grown up with computers. And they still don't get it.

It's not an IT problem really. It's a task much simpler than programming a 1970s VCR. Or driving a car. Let alone analysing a pattern of complex behaviours in a busy classroom.

It's as if being asked to do something with a computer and they just surrender all thinking.

Yes I know they're busy professionals for whom IT is an enabler. But the same could be said for any number of items that we expect people to get on and use. (We had a microwave in the staff kitchen that looked like it was there to launch a space programme, it has so many dials, settings and options, but they all managed to use it).

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Facepalm

Re: I still can't get my head round this one

The technical support staff where I work often have to remote into the user's computer to fix a problem. We use one of the several web based remoting tools. Now these will be people who use our software all day long as part of their job so you'd think they were fairly familiar with a computer. Plus, it's the 21st century right?

Yet several times a week one of the staff will have to walk someone through the process of opening a web browser ("do you see an icon that looks like...") then how to specify the URL ("at the top of the window is a text box...").

It blows my mind that someone's job can involve working on a computer all day long in this day and age but they've never used a web browser. What The Feck?

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Re: I still can't get my head round this one

I've got a better one... A certain manager I know, keeps saying 'the email isnt working' when the IT manager has has set 'monitoring' :) - she can see the email arriving in that inbox!...

You forget non-tech peeps have a different way of speaking - If they say 'it doesn't work' it usually means 'it looks odd' or 'it wont do what I want'... you get there...

"press that button'

"huh??"

"you see that green button "

"oh I wondered what that did..." - she thought just pressing 'enter' did it.... {roll eyes}

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Re: I still can't get my head round this one

@Terry 6

But with the Amstrad word processor, turning the monitor on/off WAS the same as turning the computer on/off.

Sugar sure was stingy with hardware quality, but he was spot on about simplicity.

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Re: I still can't get my head round this one

"But after a generation it is still happening. Staff would turn off the monitors at night, but leave the PCs running all weekend or potentially the whole Summer holidays. Often logged in too."

Energy saving mode? Automatic log off after some hours of no activity? The PCs at both my work places do that. We have 'home drives' that follow us around as well as we use different PCs. A touch on the power switch and the PCs log off and close down in an orderly fashion after confirming the intention.

At home: I haven't actually rebooted my big-laptop-that-stays-in-the-man-cave for about 6 weeks but that is obviously only used by me.

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Windows

Re: I still can't get my head round this one

"Now these will be people who use our software all day long as part of their job so you'd think they were fairly familiar with a computer."

@AndrueC: Nope, I'd expect them to know how to access your software and carry out the most frequent transactions they need to do with it. General knowledge of the PC itself and the vagaries of the operating system in use may not be something they need to know. I've found with Windows users telling them to 'start the Internet' actually works better than talking about Web browsers when providing informal support to students.

As we move into an era where most people use consumer devices (phones, tablets) to do most of what they want to do, and as the services people want to access on those devices increasingly use native applications that have the work-flow for the service baked into them, you may find you actually need to run training programmes for new staff on desktop basics - or do the IBM/Apple thing and go with the 'app' model. It will be interesting to see how this all pans out over the next 10 years or so.

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Re: I still can't get my head round this one

The browser address bar is a revelation to just about everyone. Almost everyone I know types for example "facebook.com" into the Google or Bing search box and selects the first search result.

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Re: I still can't get my head round this one

Yes, I get calls all the time saying things like "I received an email from so-and-so and in order to get our orders out to so-and-so, I need to reply with a spreadsheet that I update daily, and it was being edited by John but he stopped, and it said something about a file being locked and now it won't let me send an email at all, it just won't LET me!" and the problem turns out to be that the mouse has got unplugged, or the screen is dead, or the printer has run out of paper and they want to print something before emailing it. So many times I need to say "let's backtrack, what are you actually trying to do?". Whilst they can follow complex instructions and have a deep understanding of how to raise invoices in Sage, or whatever, the problem is that many people have no diagnostic skills whatsoever. An example is that if a user has a potential internet connectivity problem and they noticed that they couldn't send an email, rather than listen to me (over the phone) and go to google chrome to check if web pages load, they go to write another email, and click send, to discover it's not working. This has happened to me time and time again. People just don't have the ability to follow a problem through and try and work out what's going on in a logical way. These are the sort of people who say "everything's slow on my computer" when they mean that one website is slow.

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Re: I still can't get my head round this one

Trying to get people to type IP addresses into the address bar is hard. I say "see the bar at the top of the screen where it says http something - type it in there. NOT the google search box in the middle of the screen." and all they here is "type this into any where you see, and type www at the beginning just in case, because he probably just forgot". .

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Re: I still can't get my head round this one

No, you're saying the equivalent of saying that people shouldn't have to understand what "stop the car" means and that they should have to be told "gently press the foot brake - that's the middle pedal - until the speed drops to about five - that's the dial behind the steering wheel - then gently turn towards the pavement and press the brake a bit more (that's the middle pedal, remember), until the car stops, then put the gears in Park - that stick thing just to the left of your seat, move that until it's next to the 'P', then put the hand brake on - that's the handle just behind the gear stick you've just used, pull it upwards until it won't move any further, then take your foot off the brake.

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Re: I still can't get my head round this one

"Almost everyone I know types... ...into the Google or Bing search box and selects the first search result"

or they click the first paid search result (with the indistinguishable-to-the-average-human-eye-shading), which is how that application for a free EHIC ends up with a £49 'facilitation fee'...

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Re: I still can't get my head round this one

I'd say it very much is an IT problem... If you, as the IT dept, want the users to adhere to a policy such as turning machines off and you don't have the nous to automate it, then you need to engage with the users and educate them.

Either way, that IS an IT issue. Or at at least an IT issue for a decent IT dept to competently handle.

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Re: I still can't get my head round this one

Old habits die hard.

And if no one's taken the time to explain to users how it works, they may never know!

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Re: I still can't get my head round this one

Fixing the hardware so that it is blindingly obvious that the computer is on would go a long way to solving this wetware problem. If hardware designers spent some time on usability instead of solely on aesthetics, life for support people would be soooo... much easier.

What is it with designers hiding tinier LEDs with every new generation in less visible places? With (if one is lucky) some unfathomable symbol which is one is supposed to "intuitively" understand means POWER ON?

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Re: I still can't get my head round this one

You need to get better at giving phone instructions :-)

As a tip, you can remove some of the doubt as to which box they're typing in if you can get them to (correctly) press Alt+D

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Anonymous Coward

Re: I still can't get my head round this one

Then you get the situation where someone above IT doesn't understand what an "Alt" key is. To paraphrase Douglas Adams, trying to make something completely foolproof fails in the face of complete fools (and I'm talking the kinds of fools who think a keyboard is a wooden board with metal door keys hanging off of it).

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Re: I still can't get my head round this one

Our school's homepage has been set to the Sharepoint login screen for staff so they have instant access to the Learning Platform.

I've lost count of the amount of times that teachers or support staff have told me they can't get on to the Internet because it's asking for a password.

Even those who engage brain and read the screen in front of them still put their network user account details in rather than their Sharepoint ones.

And even those who do log in correctly still ask me how they get to the Internet from the Sharepoint homepage.

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Re: I still can't get my head round this one

(shrugs) that's what you get from an educational system that thinks that teaching people how to use a word processor or a spreadsheet is teaching them all they need to know about IT, and that doesn't even teach them Boolean Algebra to give them some idea of the need for precision when talking about things computery. Not to mention a state that has long seemed to regard teaching arts and humanities as far more important than teaching science and technology. From this, IMHO stems most of the problems with IT-illiterate bosses making poor decisions about IT-related projects that have bedevilled the world this last quarter century or so.

I'm heartened by what I hear of the current push to get more youngsters coding and understanding computing at a reasonably low level. I just wish something could be done about all the thirty-somethings that are essentially clueless about IT despite spending all day using computers to do their daily jobs, most of whom seem to be functionally entirely IT-illiterate.

Mind you, that brings to mind a comment on one of E E 'Doc' Smiths Lensman tales, where a youngster expresses surprise that people in the 20th century were allowed to drive cars without having the faintest idea about calculus. Even now when I stoop and recall that passage, I go 'hmmnn", and yet have never come down conclusively on one side of that argument or the other.

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Headmaster

Re: I still can't get my head round this one

"fools who think a keyboard is a wooden board with metal door keys hanging off of it"

To be fair, it is.

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Re: I still can't get my head round this one

Back in Win3 days our system used to have a sort-of logon system which set up various drive aliases before launching WIndows. It ended with a screen saying something like: "Remember to save your documents in drive H. Press SPACE to start Windows". The number of people who would press H at that prompt was staggering.

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Re: I still can't get my head round this one

Either way, that IS an IT issue. Or at at least an IT issue for a decent IT dept to competently handle.

Yup. but a one man band operation supporting the IT of a team of highly skilled professionals needs to be able to rely on the colleagues using a bit of basic common sense.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: I still can't get my head round this one

We used to send out instructions to users that were...I have to say, slightly more than a 'challenge'.

Big, red, emboldened 16pt font at the bottom - 'don't reply to this message'. Literally the last thing they would read in said message.

What do you think happened?

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Anonymous Coward

Re: I still can't get my head round this one

"You forget non-tech peeps have a different way of speaking - If they say 'it doesn't work' it usually means 'it looks odd' or 'it wont do what I want'"

Forget problem solving at school, what is needed for the majority is simply problem reporting.

[Back in the days when there was a Use of English O level, the one we took had a picture of a room about which you had to answer questions. Very subtly, you could tell from the arm of the record player turntable that it was a mirror image, thus enabling you to answer an apparently vaguely worded question. I was an audio geek at the time and spotted it immediately; nobody else in the 6th form taking that exam had noticed. Baden-Powell used to emphasise observation as a tool for the Boy Scouts; that too might help the next generation.]

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