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Saturday, December 7, 2013


People tend to become habitual, almost robot-like, after doing the same thing long enough. Yes, we become sort of like human automatons. Respiratory therapists are no different.

Desensitize: To make less sensitive; Make someone less likely to feel shock or distress at scenes of cruelty, at other people's pain or suffering, or at death, due to overexposure

Desensitization:  The process of becoming less sensitive to stuff you are overexposed to

Respiratory Therapy Desensitization:  The process of a respiratory therapist doing so many breathing treatments on people who don't need them that he grumbles and gripes even when a person does need them. 

Automaton:  An individual who acts in a mechanical/ robotic fashion; he just does things by order of habit; he does a he is told

RT Automaton:  An RT who treats all patients in a mechanical/ robotic fashion; they do not go off the beaten path because they are trained to do as they are told and that is that. For example, when a patient says, "Why am I getting this treatment; I'm breathing fine?" the RT is trained to say, "Because the doctor ordered it.  Our doctors are the smartest in the world."

Automatize:  Automatic response to same event every time

Respiratory Therapy Automazation:  The process of becoming an automaton, and , thus, treating all patients the same; speaking to all patients the same, speaking in a robotic cadence; speaking too loud even to those who can hear; responding with a grunt, curse and shudder every time your pager goes off

I think we do this as a defense mechanism to prevent ourselves from making mistakes.  For instance, every time I do a breathing treatment I tie a coil on the end of oxygen tubing and loop it over the flowmeter.  I do this so when I finish the treatment I see it and remember to re-hook up the patient's oxygen.

Are you an automaton?


1 comment:

K. Scott Richey said...



First, I would like to state that I agree that desensitization & automation can lead to bad outcomes or poor patient care. This is especially true if one becomes cynical or loses compassion.

However, I believe both can be beneficial in regards to providing great patient care.

Here are a few examples:

When I first enrolled in an Emergency Medical Technician course (before RT), I remember looking through the trauma pictures in my text book. I remember one picture in particular; it was of a patient with a pencil in their eye. I questioned at that time if I was pursing the right field of work. However, through training, clinical, and work I became desensitized and felt more confident in the job. I was now able to focus on the patient instead of freaking out about that eye injury.

One always experiences automation as a threat instead of an asset.
This has been a common theme in many industries; agriculture, manufacturing, aviation. These advances increased both safety and efficiency.

I try to automate the “routine” as much as possible; this helps during unexpected events and frees up my mind for troubleshooting and advance patient assessment skills (as many are aware the brain is not good at multi-tasking).
I utilize automated modes of ventilation to enforce safety parameters & to act as a decision support system. They can be especially useful in those ICU’s which have poor protocol compliance and/or low staffing issues. These tools allow me to focus on the more critical & challenging patients.

In summary I believe that both desensitization & automation can free up the busy mind and allow it to focus during times of the greatness need. Conversely, these should not lead to apathy or cynicism.

K. Scott