In the mail: an 8-noun pile-up

Remarkable e-mail. Two days ago (12/2), a message on Sutter Health’s My Health Online site with the header:

Sutter Palo Alto Center Laboratory Patient Experience Questionnaire

This is an 8-noun pile-up — not by any means a record, but definitely notable, and absolutely baffling as an announcement of a request for feedback from patients using Sutter Health’s services, in particular the services of the laboratory at Sutter Health’s PAMF Palo Alto Center (which I use with regrettable frequency).

I am now going to complain, briefly but with great feeling, about a range of things, starting with Sutter’s extraordinarily user-unfriendly, intensely corporate-oriented on-line interface. That 8-noun pile-up is fine for corporate-internal use in labeling its files, but it’s no way to get people to do a favor for you, which is what filling out  an opinion survey for them is.

This is a follow-up to yesterday’s posting “In the mail: the sleep of reason produces snowmen”, on e-mail announcing the holiday issue of the New York Review of Books. Just notes on stuff that turns up in my e-mail.

Thing 1: noun pile-ups. From my 11/25/11 posting “Cartoon technical talk composite modifier pile-up example”, about a Zits strip:

[The character] Pierce indulges in a pile-up of modifiers in the composite expression personal reference respite environments. These pile-ups are characteristic of newspaper headlines (especially in British papers) and other contexts where brevity is valued, like signage, but they also have a home in officialese, business jargon, and other types of “technical talk”, where they function as much to convey seriousness as to save space (in this case, incorporating the jargonish respiteenvironmentpersonal, and reference).

Thing 2: this particular noun pile-upSutter [Health] Palo Alto Center is short for Sutter [Health] Palo Alto Medical Foundation Palo Alto Center, or possibly for Sutter [Health] PAMF Palo Alto Center (where PAMF is an orphan initialism, a sequence of letter names that is no longer an abbreviation for some full name, but is (legally) just a name composed of a sequence of letter names).

In any case, it’s monstrous, and should not have to be uttered, written, or typed outside of technical or legal contexts.

Thing 3: surveys. Let me just say that I abominate and revile almost all survey questionnaires and flatly refuse to take them. These multiple-choice questionnaires are appallingly badly designed, with absurd forced choices, very badly worded. It’s rarely clear what the questionnaires are actually being used for. Questionnaires about services you have received are usually nothing more than devices for collecting high rates of satisfaction that can then be used as advertisements for the services.

Sutter Health is relentless in their dogged insistence on your taking their surveys. They send e-mail messages, repeating them if you don’t reply. Simultaneously, they call you on your phone to pester you to take their surveys, and will repeat the calls if you just delete them from your phone. Totally maddening.

The 12/2 e-mail did follow up its bizarre noun pile-up header with an actual request, purporting to be from the office that provided the service (though, of course, this office had nothing to do with the questionnaire)

The Sutter Palo Alto Center Laboratory is dedicated to providing an exceptional experience for our patients to better their care. We are interested in feedback about your recent visit to our lab. Please help us to continue to improve our services by taking a few moments to complete this questionnaire using the link below.

Of course, it’s never clear how your responses might help them to improve their services. Because that’s not what your responses are actually for.

Thing 4: information about PAMF. PAMF might be a non-profit, but it’s organized within Sutter as a juggernaut corporation that’s very hard to interact with. It is, in fact, extremely difficult to discover simple facts about the history of PAMF and its current structure — and Wikipedia is of little help. From the Wikipedia entry, with interventions by me along the way.

The Palo Alto Medical Foundation for Health Care, Research, and Education (PAMF) is a not-for-profit health care organization with medical offices in more than 15 cities in the Bay Area. [AZ: Nowhere can I find a list of these medical offices, though I have been referred for various services to (at least) PAMF Palo Alto, PAMF Mountain View, PAMF Sunnyvale, and PAMF San Carlos.]

… The history of the group dates back to 1930, when Dr. Russel Van Arsdale Lee founded the Palo Alto Medical Clinic (PAMC) [AZ: in Palo Alto, where it still has one of its offices, a cluster of buildings on El Camino Real that replaced the old Palo Alto Medical Clinic building around the corner from my house.]

Main entry to today’s PAMF Palo Alto

[AZ: There’s no account anywhere I can find of how the other PAMF offices sprung up. Maddening.]

… In 1981, the for-profit physician group PAMC created the not-for-profit PAMF to control its operations and assets, and in 1993, PAMF became an affiliate of Sutter Health, a not-for-profit organization with hospitals and medical groups in Northern California. [AZ: the noun affiliate was no doubt carefully chosen, but the relationship between PAMF and Sutter Health is not at all clear.]


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