I found out about a fascinating report about abbreviations from BBC News. The practical upshot of it all is that medics commonly use abbreviations in their records, and traced back to a number of fatalaties when they were misunderstood.

Abbreviations have got a lot of history in medicine. In many cases, they were meant to be confusing: FLK (Funny Looking Kid) or NFN (Normal for Norfolk) were designed to express something that the doctor didn’t want the patient from seeing.

The whole problem here is the user interface is wrong. The person writing the notes is trying to save themselves effort, to the detriment of the reader. What we really need is something better to interact with, which is quick to input the data but where the underlying representation is precise. Difficult to do with the paper and pens that most doctors still seem to use.

At the same time, I saw a blog post about Scrivener. This is a new form of word processor, which is attempting to consider the way that authors work. As a long term LaTeX user, I am somewhat isolated from the horror of word, but I can still appreciate the desire. To be dealt with by the application like an author rather than a typesetter is something that word has still failed on. Scrivener has features like a proper outlining and the ability to attach notes. LaTeX gets outlining right (word fails because most people use the physical style markups rather than the "heading" markups), but I love the synopsis idea that Scrivener has. Notes I currently do as comments in LaTeX but something better would be good.

The irony here, is that the problem is backward from the medical notes. The author wants to write much more than than the reader actually sees. Word is more scalable than 10 years ago, and has more fonts, but the user interface basically is the same. Perhaps it is time for a change?

Originally published on my old blog site.