Saturday, March 5, 2011

Naming Names

The certification test for my company's Electronic Health Record (EHR) software is next week, so this week (and weekend) are busy for me. One of the many tasks on my list is entering a bunch of sample patient data into the program in advance. I wish we could just create two patient accounts, one for "John Doe" and one for "Jane Roe," but the government wants a little more than that to work with.

I'm paranoid about even giving the appearance of accidentally releasing a real patient's information, so when I'm testing software in-house, I use names that are (to me, at least) obviously fake. Characters from cartoons and sitcoms of my childhood are good; my test databases almost always include "George Jetson," "Wilma Flintstone," and "Greg Brady." I went through a "retro" period once, but that kinda backfired for my boss when he demonstrated our software for a potential client. The poor lady had never heard of "Betty Boop" and thought that Mark was teasing her when he tried to get her to type that name.

For a serious test like the one next week, I need serious amounts of data. Names, lots and lots of names. Downloading names from the U.S. Census Bureau works pretty well (they have lists of the most popular first and last names from past censuses), but when I'm switching back and forth between patient accounts, common names all tend to blur together in my mind. It's hard to remember whether I wanted the chart for Ms. Anderson or Mr. Baker or Mrs. Clark. I find it easier to work with names that are more memorable, so I've been creating alphabetical lists of items like animals, flowers, and colors. The hardest part is coming up with things whose names start with letters like "u" and "x," but thanks to Google and Wikipedia, I can usually find something. I don't insist it be recognizable or pronounceable so long as it's unlikely to be mistaken for a real patient's name. (For the record, a "uakkri" is a kind of South American monkey.) And if you come across what looks like a medical chart for "Amy Amaryllis" or "Zebediah Zebra," just send it my way, OK?

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