My husband Jon works in an increasing popular sector of software development called identity management. If you’ve ever been billed by a hospital, you know you can end up as a patient in the hospital database, the surgeon database, the customer care database, on and on. This happens in many situations, not just hospitals, because software systems are not always integrated (their computer systems can not talk to each other). Jon’s company’s software helps customers determine unique people in those databases – for example, this person in the surgeon database is the same person in the customer care database – and links the databases together so they can communicate.
Since I share a small home office with Jon, I overhear a lot of his (boring) conversations. The most frequent conversation is what makes a person unique. In most software systems, name, date of birth, gender, mother’s name, and social security number (SSN) make a person unique. Many of his work conversations turn to twins.
In most cases, twins share a date of birth and mother. Their SSNs are usually so similar that a one digit difference could be someone fat-fingering the number. If there is no SSN available, most systems use the mother’s SSN, further confusing matters. Gender is the same for same-sex twins, but even boy-girl twins could be a user entry error. Frequently, the most unique item about a same-sex twin… from the standpoint of a computer system… is their name.
One real-world example of similarly-named multiples is boy-girl twins Alexandro and Alexandra. In that case, they were different genders but their names were so similar it could have been a typo. In the computer system, this was flagged as “possibly the same person” and someone had to manually review the record. In a less complex computer system, these two patients could be considered one person. That’s scary to me from a medical standpoint!
This can happen with differently-named multiples when software systems rank date of birth as “more unique” than name. Cynthia mentioned in a post last week that she always has an issue at her pharmacy filling prescriptions for both twins because they consider her boys the same person. Her twins are named Aaron and Brady – not even close!
In an era where computers are used to manage everything from billing records to patient history to school grades, I found this a fairly thought-provoking real-world application of having twins.