My hospital sent me a medical records release form as a PDF file. They told me that I was to print it, fill it, sign it, scan it and return it to the medical records department, in that order.
In 2018, to be receiving the form via email (i.e., electronically), yet being asked to print it? Frustrating.
So I thought I'd be clever. I'd fill it first, THEN print it. Or better yet, never print it, but sign it anyhow, and return it along with a note making the case for improving their workflow.
I opened the form. Immediately, I noticed there were no fillable fields, which was disappointing, as my handwriting is abysmal. So, ok… that not uncommon, especially on forms intended for printing.
I tried my software’s automatic forms-recognition feature with the idea of making some form fields that I could fill. No joy, it seems, because the form had been created using incompatible software.
Rather than having the decency to simply refry the PDF for me and proceed accordingly, my best-in-breed software simply complained that the source-file had been made with this other tool, and stopped.
I was looking at a form created in a proper form-designer tool. However, the author, in his or her ignorance, had not actually bothered to allow the PDF form to be fillable. Since they assumed that it would be printed, they didn't even care.
What’s more, the author's (otherwise reasonable) choice of authoring tool was blocking me from using conventional forms-recognition software to add my own fields to a dead page. Because the PDF really wasn’t a PDF at all; it was an XFA-PDF.
I did not want to print this form and fill it by hand.
To avoid spilling ink, here’s what I had to do to fill my "form" - a PDF without usable form fields:
Starting from the moment that I realized, staring at the Document Properties dialog, that I was looking at an unfillable PDF form to the moment when I actually emailed the completed form: at least 15 minutes.
Maybe I'm just slow... but I'm pretty sure that only 0.1% of users would do it faster than me via some sort of clever shortcut that I didn't think of.
Another 0.9% of users would do the same thing I did, but it would take them most of an hour.
The other 99% of users won't solve the problem at all; they'll just.... print and fill the form, then snail-mail it, fax it (what's a "fax"?) or drive it over.
What is all that worth?
As I said at the outset... this form that I now hate... it's distributed via email. The workflow guarantees a means of returning the filled form, it's just that no-one even thought to use it, or sell this hospital a solution they could use for it. Instead, the cumulative time and money spent by an average patient to move a medical records request along is a non-trivial fraction of a day's work. And for the hospital, it requires more infrastructure, staff and storage to cope with the... mere fact of a non-fillable form.
Sure about that?
This use case requires:
The first PDF was an IRS 1040 tax form. It would be nice to think that in 2018 well-behaved PDF forms would just be… standard.
25 years of PDF... but in some ways, we are just getting started.
Damn, I wish I'd known about Joel's XFA-to-Acroforms software before I started down that road!
Duff serves the PDF industry as ISO Project co-Leader and US TAG chair for both ISO 32000 (the PDF specification) and ISO 14289 (PDF/UA). As Executive Director of the PDF Association, Duff coordinates several working groups, speaks at a wide variety of industry events and promotes the advancement and adoption of PDF technology worldwide. An independent consultant, Duff Johnson is a veteran …