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IT Everything

A witness to history in healthcare information technology.
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By Joseph Conn

Blog: As Petraeus affair teaches, tech no protection from bad judgment

3:15 pm, Nov. 14

I have been watching the unpeeling onion that is the scandal involving some of our top military and intelligence leaders with jaw-dropping wonder.

And in keeping, the other night I watched the DVD of the film adaptation of Graham Greene's romantic tragedy "The End of the Affair," with the always excellent Ralph Fiennes and Julianne Moore.

I'm a huge Graham Greene fan, for a couple of reasons.

For one thing, Greene and I both lived and worked in Sierra Leone—he as a spy in the 1930s and again during World War II and me as a Peace Corps volunteer in the 1970s.

For another thing, Greene is a master storyteller, with piercing insight into the emotional lives of his characters. The liaison in "The End of the Affair" was between the wife of a high-ranking government official and the official's friend, a relative unknown. It is something of a mirror image of what we have now, where the affair is between a high-ranking official and a friend, who is the wife of an unknown.

In both stories, the truth comes out and a lot of damage is done.

I'm sure, if he were alive today, Greene would have a much better understanding than I do of the emotional geography of our current situation. I wish he were here to interpret it.

It is for me more than a little ironic, however, that for all the factual and mythologized mastery of information technology by our national security services, the nation’s top spy should come a cropper due to—according to published reports—a half-dozen or so poorly disguised e-mails sent by his alleged mistress.

What's the lesson in all this for healthcare IT?

Maybe it’s simply this. Underlying it all, these computer systems are still controlled by people, and we all have frailties. Even the best technology affords no shield against bad judgment and little protection from human weakness.

As the old saying goes: garbage in, garbage out.

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