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Programmer's < fumble jeopardizes thousands of medical reports

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Coat

Looks like...

...the code review was less than diligent.

I'd make a cheap pun but I'm greater than that.

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Thumb Up

Re: Looks like...

i m > u

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Re: Looks like...

I'll bet someone's equal to the task, more or less.

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Pint

Re: Looks like...

My Dad > Your Dad

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Re: Looks like...

Me -> Your sister

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Markup language

Perhaps the reports are being generated in markup language where "<" has to be escaped. Maybe somebody tried a shortcut trick and it backfired.

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Re: Markup language

That sounds likely but you have to wonder about the amount of verification that should have been performed but clearly wasn't.

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Re: Markup language

"Maybe somebody tried a shortcut trick and it backfired."

Not necessarily tried a short cut. I've seen repeated failures to escape apostrophes (ironically, mostly in Irish names) keep reappearing. I put it down to each fresh batch of programmers on their 6 month visas having to be educated about generating well-formed XML because they thought you could just copy the raw text to the output.

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Re: Markup language

I've worked with a system recently that completely broke if you typed & into a free text field. It threw away everything entered and gave an error message that explained nothing. And this was a mature system that had been running for years, but obviously testing hadn't noticed and no-one had thought it worth fixing.

And systems that can't handle Irish O' are so common that it's ridiculous.

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Re: Markup language

I tried to do name normalisation for a client a while back, I naively set of with a 'Capitalise the first letter of the 2 names' rule, then realised that there were O'Briens (which is capitalised differently to D'eath) and so added an element to catch that, then a MacDonald was noticed so I added something to catch that and McD at the same time, then someone points out that there are people with hyphenated names, and people with 'van' in between names and on researching that I find that some people capitalise the Van and some don't.

I quit in the end and never finished it all, so if you receive a marketing email from a British car parking company (a National one...) and your unusual name is mangled you can thank me.

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Re: Markup language

" then someone points out that there are people with hyphenated names"

And multiple word surnames without a hyphen, which are even worse.

I feel your pain. I had to deal with a situation where a client's client who had stuff properly structured decided they'd send us the names flipped with surname first but expected us to print them correctly. Add in the fact that there might be the occasion title; Prof or Sir etc in there and those names AFAICR hadn't been flipped. They saw nothing wrong until I pointed out a few examples. They then agreed to provide assistance. Instead of just sending the data as they had it the added a field to tell us which of 4 options to apply to reconstruct what they could have sent in the first place.

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Re: Markup language

Why didn't you just give up and use what the form filler typed in? most people know how to format their own name, and people with unusual names are used to telling another human how to. Also, lose the first-name last-name crap, you only have a 50% chance of printing them in the order acceptable to the named person.

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Re: Markup language

...and then you find that Mr Mace has been formatted as Mr MacE.

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Re: Markup language

@J.G.Harston

Ha. Thankfully I specifically looked for the string 'macd', but like I say I'm sure there was loads of stuff I'd missed.

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Re: Markup language

I did just give up; I changed jobs and stopped worrying about it!

But yeah, thats what I should have done, as it was I was replacing a convoluted set of VB laden Excel docs and one of the functions there 'corrected' the name and I said I'd replicate it without really considering the complexities.

What was there originally just capitalised the first letter of the two name fields so I got much further than it was originally but I'd have probably just given up and fallen back to the original if I'd stuck around to see it through.

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Re: Markup language

@Doctor Syntax

This stuff amazes me when I bump into it.

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Facepalm

@Natalie Gritpants

"most people know how to format their own name"

OMG, if only that was really true! I deal with customer entered data for several clients - and I am forced to say nope, nope and more nope!

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Pint

Re: Markup language

So the MacArthur's, MacGregor's and MacLean's were shit outta luck then? As are my ancestors, the MacPollen's.... No hard feelings, you deserve one of these for even attempting that task.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Markup language

And another issue comes when you deal with Koreans, who write the family name first.

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Re: Markup language

@Shady

...shit!

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Anonymous Coward

AIs first target ....

spot dodgy code ...

(It's actually a subset of a Turing test) ...

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Escape!

It sounds like bad escaping. Somebody should embed some good cat animations into the reports before it's fixed.

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Re: Escape!

good cat animations

On the bad news front: you have terminal cancer.

On the good news front: Amusing kitties!

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DJV

Re: Escape!

Well, they should at least do a cat scan, anyway...

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MVC Separation of church and state

... luckily the data in the reports was held completely separately from the component used to display it, so they only needed to change the displaying component to show ">" properly, and no patients were required to undergo re-testing ...

Wasn't it?

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Unnecessary extra scans?

"The majority of reports are either viewed on paper or electronically within NIMIS RIS, neither of which are affected by the symbol issue," the HSE added.

So it looks like the notes are stored with the symbol and there are work-arounds for getting the correct description- surely extra scans (and thus extra x-ray exposure) should not therefore be necessary.

As others said, it sounds like it could be a escaping problem converting the notes perhaps to HTML or XML - I wonder if ampersands also cause problems.

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Re: Unnecessary extra scans?

" I wonder if ampersands also cause problems."

And names such as O'Malley.

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Re: Unnecessary extra scans?

And UTF-8 smart quotes.

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Anonymous Coward

We had this problem

We had this problem with our lab system. Medics are in the habit of typing "~" for "approximately" in clinical details when requesting. This broke the transfer of results from the Lab system to the reporting system until the reporting system suppliers fixed it (and charged for it).

Programmers don't seem to realise that people free-typing stuff will type literally anything that the keyboard will allow (@ is another good example. So is the "any" key...)

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Re: We had this problem

The way to solve this is by proper entry checking. But, I work a language that functionally has one type - string..

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Re: We had this problem

People free-typing stuff will eventually use every glyph in the font.

And will find and complain about missing glyphs fairly quickly. After all, Irish names can contain any characters in Unicode. It's the Law.

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Re: We had this problem

Any Unicode character?

So I can call my self 'v   ᠎ ​ ৮̗̜͓̀̎d͓͚͐'

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Re: We had this problem

From the Donegal 'v ᠎ ​ ৮̗̜͓̀̎d͓͚͐'s - yes?

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Boffin

Re: We had this problem

It is fairly standard practise to use tilde as "approximately equal to" as it resembles the standard mathematical sign quite well.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tilde#Approximation

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Approximation#Unicode

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Re: We had this problem

Medics are in the habit of typing "~" for "approximately"

Which is a well-known and completely valid use for a tilde character..

Programmers don't seem to realise that people free-typing stuff

In a previous life I worked for a company that did occupational health tracking software. One release, we needed to do a database upgrade and data-matching exercise and tried to automate it.

Gave up in the end and hired a bunch of temps to re-key stuff because the medics only loosely matched the field name with the content they put in it..

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Anonymous Coward

Re: We had this problem

>So I can call my self 'v ᠎ ​ ৮̗̜͓̀̎d͓͚͐'

How do you pronounce that? In my head it sounds like something that refers to womens genitalia..

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Headmaster

Re: We had this problem

@ Whitter

So you're saying that '~' ≈ '≈'? Or is it that '~' ~ '≈'? Both?

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Re: We had this problem

Well played sir!

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Re: We had this problem

Does that mean "garland of flowers"?

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Anonymous Coward

Re: We had this problem

7-bit ASCII or suck it.

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" and have formed an incident management team to decide the next steps to take."

Unfortunate result but they seem to be handling it in a more focused way than I suspect would happen in the NHS, although they are considerably smaller. So thumbs up for that.

So this weeks Top Tip:

Confirm all characters that can be entered on a data record can both be displayed on screen and on reports, or some sort of commonly understood equivalent is done so instead.

"<" (and while they're at it perhaps they should check ">" as well) are IIRC standard parts of ASCII, EBCDIC and Unicode. Others have suggested HTML and XML is where it gets tricky. :-(

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Joke

Re: " and have formed an incident management team to decide the next steps to take."

Which will consist of one director, two vice presidents, a C-suite executive, 15 managers, and one low paid code monkey.

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Joke

Erm...

'it's reported the bug has hit " 25,000" people'

FTFY

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Anonymous Coward

Perfect!

Sorry that should read <Perect!

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I'm < impressed.

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Sadly, nothing new here

I've encountered similar lack-of-escaping bugs on a pretty regular basis for years, in part because of my persistent habit of working in schools with apostrophes and/or ampersands in their names.

Some websites totally crap out when you try to submit the name to register a product or download companion software. One even had a hyper-sensitive "hacking detector" that admonished me then locked out the county's outbound IP address for a minute each time I submitted the offending text. (They probably thought they were being really clever by detecting attempts at SQL/script injection or something. Maybe I should have set up a script to submit it automatically every minute to see if they noticed the sudden lack of business coming their way from an entire county.)

One major technology retailer's site accepted the address but munged it on the shipping label, which isn't disastrous but is rather ugly - "St. Brutus&apos;s School &amp; Deranged Orang-Utan Containment Facility".

Another completely omitted the address line containing the name of the school which is a little more troublesome - it took several failed (i.e. not attempted) deliveries before someone at the courier's depot thought to phone the contact number on the label (apparently, the drivers aren't allowed to carry phones) to find out exactly where in Snafu Road the parcel should be sent.

Some would say I should just omit the non-alpha characters as a matter of course but I like to break systems then see how (if) the companies' tech support folks handle the bug report.

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Re: Sadly, nothing new here

but I like to break systems then see how (if) the companies' tech support folks handle the bug report.

Now class, let's see how well your browser and DNS systems handle unicode characters that resemble CP430 characters but give a different value..

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Anonymous Coward

yeah... < and > in med results can be pretty important.

Critical difference between your kidneys working and being on the transplant list IIRC too... :oops:

Did get a lot of help desk calls recorded when a system spat out &gt; rather than > as well.

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Anonymous Coward

I have been meaning to sort out my own code which display £ and other unicode as something other than it should for a while now. Will probably tackle the &amp;lt; class of bugs as well. Thankfully it's not anything close to a critical system, and why no effort at all was put in to handle such things.

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Retests

"A bug in code that generates medical reports could force patients in Ireland to repeat their hospital and clinic scans."

I cannot see why when the data itself is said to be stored correctly and it's only one of the display mechanisms which renders that data wrongly.

Hyperbole requirement for the week not met? Slow fake news day?

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