Health technology no substitute for compassion

As famed physician, Francis Peabody, once said, “The secret of the care of the patient is in caring for the patient.” Photo: Caring is key to better health | © iStockphoto.com/AlexRaths

LOS ALTOS, CA, September 30, 2013 – The folks at Google are both smart and wise: Smart enough to invent Google Maps and wise enough to warn everyone who relies on this technology for driving directions that their maps are to be used “for planning purposes only.”

There is simply no telling what kind of traffic, detours, weather, or other unforeseen setbacks you might run into on your way to Grandma’s.


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Ideally those who rely on technology for diagnosing and treating disease are cautioned to exercise a similar wisdom. As good as we think we are at maintaining the body by way of scans, apps, and sophisticated computer programs, there remains a significant wild-card within the mind of the individual involved.

“There are many facets of the patient that tend not to shine through if the electronic medical record is all we have to go on,” writes Richard Gunderman, M.D. in a recent column in The Atlantic. “A robot can collect and process data, but good medicine requires more than information management. It takes effective communication, deep insight, and genuine compassion.”

Taking the time to learn where a patient is coming from, what they’re thinking, even saying a word or two to calm their fears, is not just good bedside manner. As Gunderman notes, it’s good medicine.

Some years ago a man who severely cut his hand while using a table saw ran screaming into the emergency room of a local hospital. The attending doctor asked that he be given a dose of morphine to calm him down. When he continued screaming, he was given a second dose. And then another. And then another. Realizing that the drug was having absolutely no effect, the doctor put his hands on the man’s shoulders, looked him straight in the eye and said, “You’re going to be just fine.” Very quickly the man relaxed and fell asleep.


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“We have been seduced by our technologies,” said Dr. Neal Slatkin, chief medical officer for Hospice of the Valley, in a recent article in the San Jose Mercury News, implying that the hi-tech approach is not always the best approach.

This is not to suggest that anyone who sees technology as important is devoid of compassion. There is danger, however, that the state of one’s thought gets marginalized as we become more and more dependent on something that takes only one aspect of the patient – some might even say the lesser aspect – into consideration.

“The tender word and Christian encouragement of an invalid,” writes Mary Baker Eddy in her seminal work on health and healing, “pitiful patience with his fears and the removal of them, are better than hecatombs of gushing theories, stereotyped borrowed speeches, and the doling of arguments, which are but so many parodies on legitimate Christian Science, aflame with divine Love.”

Although written almost a century before the term “high tech” came into vogue, an analogy can be drawn between Eddy’s “gushing theories” and Dr. Slatkin’s “seductive technologies”. In either case, a ready remedy can be found in the simple willingness to be compassionate, to love, and by doing so, to remove the fear that lies at the root of so much suffering.


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“The secret of the care of the patient,” said famed physician, Francis Peabody, at the close of a lecture he gave at Harvard Medical School in 1925, “is in caring for the patient.”

Eric Nelson’s columns on the link between consciousness and health appear regularly in a number of local, regional, and national online publications. He also serves as the media and legislative spokesperson for Christian Science in Northern California.


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Eric Nelson

Eric Nelson has been published and featured in numerous newspapers, online publications, and radio talk programs. He speaks from years of experience in the mind-body field, especially as it relates to health. In addition, he is the media and legislative spokesperson for Christian Science in Northern California and is a self-employed Christian Science practitioner. He’s also a huge baseball fan and loves riding his bike in the nearby Santa Cruz Mountains. You can find him at www.norcalcs.org.

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