In recent years there has been a growing concern in healthcare about distracted doctors. Like distracted drivers, physicians who are preoccupied with the electronic devices in their hands may pose a danger to others around them. Inattention leads to preventable medical errors.

This is the case even if physicians are preoccupied with electronic devices meant to improve recordkeeping and other aspects of their jobs. Then again, there are also physicians distracted by technology in ways that are unrelated to work and inappropriate in nearly all work settings.

A rather shocking example is an anesthesiologist in Seattle who recently had his license suspended. The state Department of Health found that he was not just texting during surgeries, he was sexting.

Between April and August of last year, the 47-year-old anesthesiologist exchanged about 250 text messages during a range of medical procedures. Most of the text messages contained everything from “sexual innuendo” to “explicit sexual comments” to pictures of his genitals.

It is unclear if the man’s antics resulted in any injurious or fatal mistakes. However, it is frightening to think of just what could have gone wrong during a surgery simply because the preoccupied anesthesiologist was sexting instead of monitoring the patients’ vital signs.

Not all patients respond to anesthesia in the same way. As such, they must be monitored carefully the entire time that they are “under.” Given this physician’s alleged negligence, it would also be reasonable to assume that he could have made other anesthesia errors as well.

Distraction is dangerous behind the wheel, but it can be equally so in the operating room. There is simply no excuse for the kind of behavior alleged in this case. And news of the anesthesiologist’s suspension may lead former patients and their families to take a closer look at any surgery complications they may have experienced.

Source: The Washington Post, “This might be a first: A Seattle doctor is suspended for sexting during surgery,” Lindsey Bever, June 10, 2014