Planes fly on autopilot. So do some cars, at least in a semi-autonomous state. While such systems offer advantages to pilots and drivers alike, routinely operating on autopilot isn't an ideal state for physicians where a lack of presence and mindfulness can lead to costly errors.
Operating on autopilot means doing something without thinking, such as driving to work using the same route. Other applicable terms include being "zoned out" or "mind-wandering." (Psychologists have even coined another term, automaticity, which they say is what happens when a behavior is "over-learned.") If you are on autopilot, you may have difficulty remembering exactly what you were doing or feel as if you have suddenly "woken up" and come back to your task.
Harvard psychologists Matthew Killingsworth and Daniel Gilbert found that the average person spends 47 percent of their time on autopilot, following automated behaviors while their...