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Doctor gave patients the wrong test results due to 'printer problems'

The diagnosis? Ignorance is bliss, but educating users is hell

On Call If it's Friday – and we have no reason to believe it is not – then it must be time for another instalment of On-Call, The Register's weekly tale of techies who rise above the trivial troubles that colleagues demand be addressed with undue haste.

This week meet "Arthur" who told us of the time – in an age before networked printers – when he took a call from "a doctor in distress" who couldn't print the pages he wanted.

"When I connect the printer to computer A, computer B can no longer print and when I connect it to computer B, I cannot print from computer A immediately," the quack complained. "But later in the day, prints from computer B come out of the printer but mostly when I am trying to print from computer A."

Yes, dear reader. This medical doctor did not realize that unplugging a printer made it unreachable.

A reminder: doctors are supposed to be quite smart.

But this story stops being funny right now, because the doctor was so flummoxed he had given patients the wrong test results.

Complicating matters further, Arthur was at the very beginning of his career and sorting this situation was to be his debut as an on-site problem solver.

"I was grabbing my jacket and already planning my route when my mentor grabbed me and asked me what the problem was," Arthur explained. "He made me repeat the customer complaint several times. Had me sit down have a glass of cold water and state the problem several times. He suggested perhaps I should sleep on the problem since he didn't want me tackling my first solo support call halfcocked."

Arthur followed that advice, and the next morning was supplied with a device called a printer switch – a thingummy with two serial cables and one printer cable.

"My boss looked the user squarely in the eye and told him that it was a printer channel switcher and that whenever he couldn't get the printer on one channel, he could always try the other channel,” Arthur explained.

"The user was delighted and never had a printing problem again," Arthur recalled.

But for a few days afterwards he also had a nagging feeling – while the problem had been solved, the doctor was none the wiser about what had gone wrong and how it could have been avoided in the first place.

"It was only then that my boss began to teach me that it is often easier to find and apply a solution than it is to educate a user," Arthur told On-Call.

And with correct test results again flowing, was there even a need to revisit the doctor's dilemma?

If you've ever decided that ignorance is bliss, let us know by sending a message to On Call. ®

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