A sobering article out of the NY Times this week called “As Doctors Use More Devices, Potential for Distraction Grows.”

From the article:

Hospitals and doctors’ offices, hoping to curb medical error, have invested heavily to put computers, smartphones and other devices into the hands of medical staff for instant access to patient data, drug information and case studies.

But like many cures, this solution has come with an unintended side effect: doctors and nurses can be focused on the screen and not the patient, even during moments of critical care. And they are not always doing work; examples include a neurosurgeon making personal calls during an operation, a nurse checking airfares during surgery and a poll showing that half of technicians running bypass machines had admitted texting during a procedure.

This phenomenon has set off an intensifying discussion at hospitals and medical schools about a problem perhaps best described as “distracted doctoring.”

Apparently, this distracted doctoring phenomenon has gotten so bad that there was a recent malpractice suit, settled out of court, from a patient who was partially paralyzed after a surgery. The neurosurgeon who was operating on him—and presumably, paralyzed him—was using a headset to make personal phone calls to family and colleagues.


Seems to me like these doctors and nurses could benefit from some high-quality mindfulness meditation. Because is it just me, or is this ridiculous?

I’d like to post a little excerpt from the Anguttara-nikaya on operating room doors everywhere (text altered slightly from the original):

“This is what I have heard…‘Doctors, I consider no other single quality to be so much the cause of the arising of unwholesome qualities that have not arisen and the wasting away of wholesome qualities that have arisen as this: inattentiveness. When a doctor is inattentive, unwholesome qualities that have not arisen arise and wholesome qualities that have arisen waste away.’”

© Peter M. Fisher/Corbis
© Peter M. Fisher/Corbis

Speaking of meditation, I stumbled upon this Scientific American article while reading The Worst Horse. It’s written by John Horgan and called “Why I Don’t Dig Buddhism.” (And if you visit the site and happen to have the same question as I do, no, I don’t understand why it’s published on a blog that is supposed to include “critical views of science in the news,” either.)

Most of Horgan’s article is about his experience with Buddhism and why he decided in the end that he had “intellectual qualms” with it. His article has some real gems:

Buddhism, at least in its traditional forms, is functionally theistic, even if it doesn’t invoke a supreme deity. The doctrines of karma and reincarnation imply the existence of some sort of cosmic moral judge who, like Santa Claus, tallies up our naughtiness and niceness before rewarding us with nirvana or rebirth as a cockroach.

Hmmm. He goes on,

Research on meditation (which I reviewed in my 2003 book Rational Mysticism, and which is usually carried out by proponents, such as psychologist Richard Davidson) suggests how variable its effects can be. Meditation reportedly reduces stress, anxiety and depression, but it has been linked to increased negative emotions, too. Some studies indicate that meditation makes you hyper-sensitive to external stimuli; others reveal the opposite effect. Brain scans do not yield consistent results, either. For every report of heightened neural activity in the frontal cortex and decreased activity in the left parietal lobe, there exists a contrary result.

Now, Horgan doesn’t actually cite to link to any studies that say this, so I’m unsure if this has any truth. Judging by the validity of the rest of his article, I’d be surprised if he were right about this, but still, it’s worth asking. We’ve certainly heard quite a bit lately about the benefits of meditation—but are there any detriments?

Last, a news item about a Buddhist practice that truly may cause some harm: a recent Cambodian study is suggesting that the practice of animal release may place people at a greater risk of infection of the avian influenza H5N1 virus (the avian flu), as well as spread the disease. Check out the full article here


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