Article Text

Download PDFPDF
The art of doing nothing
  1. Ian Bone
  1. Retired, Helensburgh, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Ian Bone, Retired, Helensburgh, UK; ianbone07{at}

Statistics from

Request Permissions

If you wish to reuse any or all of this article please use the link below which will take you to the Copyright Clearance Center’s RightsLink service. You will be able to get a quick price and instant permission to reuse the content in many different ways.

The delivery of good medical care is to do as much nothing as possible. (‘The House of God’, Shem1)

When, some 50 years ago, I embarked on a career in neurology, there were plenty of opportunities for doing nothing. Treatments were limited, investigations invasive, imprecise or both, and the specialty of neurophysiology is in its genesis. The consequence of this limited weaponry was that neurological education centred on listening, history taking, observing, examining and applying findings to a knowledge of pathologically based clinical localisation and physiology. Due to lack of numbers, the neurologist was a diagnostician who could provide limited treatments and was reliant on general medicine, or the family doctor, to provide on-going care to almost all the rare and most challenging of neurological conditions. How the landscape has changed, but is there now a place to practise a new and deliberate form of clinical inertia? The word ‘inertia’ sounds pejorative and implies a paralysis of activity; but this may not necessarily be true.

When it comes …

View Full Text


  • Twitter @ianbone10

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Commissioned; internally peer reviewed.

  • Author note ”The House of God” by Samuel Shem (a pseudonym for the psychiatrist Stephen Bergman) is a fictionalised account of the Beth Israel Hospital at Boston in the early 1970s. Highly recommended. Author, ‘Sacred Lives: an account of the history, cultural associations and social impact of epilepsy’ ISBN 978 1913913 991.

Linked Articles

  • Editors’ commentary
    Phil E M Smith Geraint N Fuller