I begin 2012 with a new perspective on enterprise search, one gained as purely an observer. The venues have all been medical establishments with multiple levels of complexity and healthcare workers. As the primary caregiver for a patient, and with some medical training, I take my role as observer and patient advocate quite seriously.

As soon as the patient was on the way to the emergency room, all of his medical records, insurance cards, medications, and contact information were assembled and brought to the hospital. With numerous critical care professionals intervening, and the patient being taken for various tests over several hours, I verbally imparted information I thought was important that might not yet show up in the system. Toward the end of the emergency phase, after being told several times that they had all his records available and “in the system” I relaxed to focus on the “next steps.”

Numerous specialists were involved in the medical conditions and the first three days passed without “a crisis” but little did we know that medication choices were beginning to cause some major problems. Apparently, some parts of the patient’s medical history were not fully considered, and once the medications caused adverse outcomes, all kinds of other problem arose.

Fortunately, I was there to verbally share knowledge that was in the patient’s medical records and get choices of medicine reversed. On several occasions, doctor’s care orders had been “overlooked” and complicating interventions were executed because the healthcare person “in the moment” took an action without “seeing” those orders. I personally watched the extensive recording of doctor’s decisions and confirmed with them changes that were being made to the patient’s care, but repeatedly had to ask why a change was not being implemented.

Observing for six to eight hours on several care floors, I can only say that time is the enemy for medical staff. When questions were raised, the answers were in the system; in other words, “search worked.” What was not available to staff was time to study the whole patient record and understand overlapping and sometimes conflicting orders about care.

It is shortsighted for any institution to believe that it can squeeze professionals to “think-fast,” “on-their-feet” for hours on end with no time to consider the massive amounts of searchable results they are able to assemble. Human beings should not be expected to sacrifice their professional integrity and work standards because their employers have put them in a constant time bind.

My family member had me, but what of patients with no one, or no one versed in medical conditions and processes to intervene. This extends to every line of business where risk is involved from the practice of law to engineering, manufacturing, design, research and development, testing, technical documentation writing, etc.

I don’t minimize how hard it is for businesses and professional services to stay profitable and competitive when they are being pressed to leverage technology for information resource management. However, one measure that every enterprise must embrace is educating its workforce about the use of information technologies it employs. It is not enough to simply make a search engine interface accessible on the workstation. Every worker must be shown how to search for accurate information, authoritative information, and complete information, and be made aware of the ways to ingest and evaluate what they are finding. Finally, they must be given an alternative to getting a more complete chronicle when the results don’t match the need, even if that alternative is to seek another human being instead of a technology.

Search experts are a professionally trained class of workers who can fill the role of trainers, particularly if they have subject matter expertise in the field where search is being deployed. The risks to any enterprise of short-changing workers by not allowing them to fully exploit and understand results produced from search are long-term, but serious.

It is important to leave this entry with recognition that, due to wonderful healthcare professionals and support staff, the outcomes for the patient have been positive. People listened when I had information to share and respected my role in the process. That in no way absolves institutions and enterprises from giving their employees the autonomy and time to pay attention to all the information flooding their sphere of operation. In every field of endeavor, human beings need the time and environment to mindfully absorb, analyze and evaluate all the content available. Technology can aid but cannot carry out thoughtful professional practice.