Friday, August 26, 2005

Red Lights, IT, and Mayo Clinic

The August 16, 2005 issue of the Omaha World Herald carried a story about a new system for dealing with traffic light violations in Council Bluffs, Iowa, Omaha’s sister city just across the Missouri River.

The new system involves the use of cameras to monitor traffic-lighted intersections. Violations are detected by means of a device that knows when the light is red and senses cars going too fast to stop for it. When a violation is detected, a ten-second film is taken of the car, its license plate, the intersection, and the red light. Owners of violating vehicles are sent tickets. Those wishing to contest the accusation can go to the company’s web site and see the violation.

The article did not mention how fines were paid, but I assume it is possible to do that on line as well.

The system is operated by its developer, Redflex Traffic Systems of Scottsdale, Arizona.

There has been a significant increase in the number of tickets issued for red light violations and a reduction in the portion challenged. At the device-equipped intersections, no police officers are needed to monitor traffic light obedience. So it would seem that information technology has been used to improve performance and lower cost for the traffic section of the Council Bluffs police department.

The next day, I had occasion to suggest that a friend seeking medical attention go to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. Since the friend is not skilled using Internet, I volunteered to go to the Mayo web page and find out how to get an appointment.

I assumed there would be a way to do it on line. Not so. You have to telephone, send a letter, or have your physician do it. So I can visualize a bank of clerks in Rochester tediously entering into Mayo’s computer a lot of information we would happily have entered for nothing (and perhaps more accurately).

Then on the day following that, while traveling back to Massachusetts, I noted in the Northwest Airline magazine an article by Mayo Clinic about a new drug that has proved to be effective in treating a common type of breast cancer.

Mayo may be at the cutting edge when it comes to treating breast cancer and we can all be thankful for that.

But when it comes to using information technology to improve its operations, it could learn something from the Council Bluffs police department.

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