My esteemed colleague Nick Bradbury writes today about having knee surgery but expresses some concern about placing himself in the hands of a system that works using felt-tip pens.
Just before the procedure, a nurse walked over with a felt-tipped pen and wrote "YES" on my right leg. When the doctor came over, he confirmed it was my right knee that was being operated on, and then proceeded to write his initials above the "YES."
On the one hand, it was reassuring to know I wouldn’t wake up to discover a missing testicle. But on the other hand, it was unnerving to realize I had placed my fate in the hands of a medical system that has to resort to felt-tip markers in order to prevent surgical mistakes.
Avoiding the obvious question of whether they use the same procedure if you go in to have a testicle removed , I think it's an excellent solution. The more complexity you introduce into a system, the more chance you have of something going wrong. Sometimes people come to me wanting a program written to solve a problem they have and are often perplexed when I suggest an alternative that doesn't involve computers at all. Much the same way that one of the hardest things to do as a musician is shut up and not play, people often find it hard to see non-technical solutions to a technical problem.
I think it's telling that in the article Nick linked to explaining that even using a felt pen doesn't always work, they used an "X" to mark the appropriate body part which is clearly asking for trouble, given the ambiguity of "X". You can be sure that had they have written "Yes, this one!!!" or "No, the other one!!!", it wouldn't have made any difference how the operating theatre had been set up, they would've double-checked.
Technical or non-technical approaches, ya still can't eliminate the possibility of people screwing up