Send us a fax of that scan so we can email it back, OK? • The Register

Something for the Weekend, Sir? I could just do with some popcorn right now.

I am loitering among the sick and deranged. The selfish fools decided to pile into the chemist’s at 9am, the very moment I sensibly chose to visit. Half of them seem to be loitering around the entrance, jabbing urgently at their smartphones and muttering to themselves.

The popcorn? It will not cure my ailment but, despite research from the Rotterdam School of Management that claims otherwise, popcorn would enhance my user experience (UX) of waiting in the queue.

Being English, I enjoy queueing. Being French, everyone else is randomly positioned around the till, spaced one metre apart as if ready to play dodgeball. Watching them fight over who’s next to be served is a spectator sport in itself. For me, queueing and popcorn would be ideal.

To pass the time in the queue, I check Doctolib on my smartphone. Again.

Doctolib is a popular commercial app here in France for booking appointments with your local general practitioner without having to phone reception 37 times before getting past the recorded message asking you to call back later. Many citizens think it’s an official government-issued app but it is not. Rather, Doctolib is like one of those apps you might use to book an appointment at your hairdresser.

This year it introduced live video consultations which, I admit, don’t yet feature in hairdresser-appointment booking apps. Imagine the worst Zoom call you have ever endured – talking the sprint team through today’s bug-list using your phone while boarding a train and your connection signal’s only two bars with the letter E next to them – and you’ll have an idea of what a Doctolib video consultation with your GP is like.

“Hmm, you’re looking a bit blotchy,” my doctor told me soon after he appeared on my handset screen the previous evening. I replied that I was only suffering from posterization due to lossy over-compression in the codec as a result of poor bandwidth and that my skin would clear up by itself if he stood closer to his window. Oddly enough this didn’t seem to reassure him at all.

My ailment? Unfortunately, I don’t get ill in the way I am supposed to. I get hay fever in the winter. Only in the winter.

How tiresome to explain my ludicrous cold-weather nasal freeflow every time. When I announce this live in a surgery, this is a doctor’s cue to lean forwards as if to get a closer view of my unseasonally misbehaving neb.

This is why I opted for a video consultation: all he has to do is fish out the prescription from last winter, do that “hum, hah” and chin-rubbing thing that general practitioners do, and prescribe it again to see me through what even Europeans now refer to as “the holiday season.”

I like to remind pedants in Britainland that the word “holiday” was traditionally used on the right-hand side of the Atlantic right into the 20th century to mean any time off from work, not just full-on seasonal vacations. After I get back from the chemist, for example, I will do some work, have lunch, and then enjoy a “half-holiday” – ie, have the afternoon off – by which time I hope the meds will have taken effect and I can stop wiping my nose.

My more famous 19th century satirical namesake even had his own comic – Ally Sloper’s Half Holiday – that celebrated the Victorian innovation of closing mills, factories and other general workplaces on a Saturday afternoon so that the masses could go to the park, play football, say “gor blimey” at each other and other such working class stuff. Even eat popcorn, I suppose…

I put away my bag of figurative popcorn because I have finally been called to the till.

I have a prescription, I tell the pharmacist. My doctor sent it to me via Doctolib last night and the app tells me I can forward it to my chemist “securely with one click.” But when I touch the button (I still haven’t worked out how to make my smartphone “click”), it prompts me to type in a full destination email address, which is more than one touch, or one click for that matter.

Forgive me, I may have mentioned this outrageous lying “one-click” bollocks before.

The pharmacist listens patiently, and without a beat and with a soft, reassuring voice, dictates the pharmacy’s email address. He’s heard all this already from other customers, I guess. He even advises me to wander back to the store entrance because the phone signal is stronger there.

I duly join the gaggle of people loitering at the entrance and begin jabbing urgently at my smartphone while muttering what a pain in the arse all this is.

I rejoin the queue and am eventually called to the till. The nice man with the soft voice has gone. Instead, I am served by a harassed-looking young woman in a white lab coat. I tell her I have emailed my prescription from Doctolib.

She emits a sigh of resigned exhaustion, types in my name and actually turns her computer display to face me. She’s heard all this already from other customers, I guess. Doctolib has popped up a message telling her that my prescription is unreadable and cannot be opened. She waves her hand at it irritably and says I will have to email her “a photo” of my prescription in some other manner.

Now, do I spend five minutes explaining how to configure the pharmacy’s web browser to handle PDFs correctly…? Ha, just joking. I spend exactly five nanoseconds deciding to do no such thing, and I wander back to the entrance to join the ever-growing crowd of loiterers trying to figure out how to export their PDFs from Doctolib so they can attach them to a conventional email.

I rejoin the queue and am eventually called to the till a third time. The pharmacy’s email system is correctly configured to open PDFs and, after printing it out and leaning across the counter to get a closer look at my nose, she fetches my meds.

This done, she feeds my freshly printed prescription into a scanner at the till. She literally scans the document she has just printed back into the system, and hands me the printout as a parting gift.

“Bring this with you next time,” she advises, and she is not wrong.

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Alistair Dabbs

Alistair Dabbs is not a blustery, lazy schemer often found “sloping” through alleys to avoid his landlord and other creditors. He is frustrated that UX dev is imbalanced between front-end design that promises the world and back-end operations that have difficulty seeing beyond the end of your street. More at Autosave is for Wimps and @alidabbs.



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