Patient photos boost radiologists' performance

CHICAGO (Reuters) - An old-fashioned technology -- the photograph -- may help improve the performance of radiologists reading test results from high-tech medical scanners, Israeli researchers said on Tuesday.

Radiologists often have little direct contact with patients, but showing them a photo of a test subject can help improve their performance, the researchers told a meeting of the Radiological Society of North America in Chicago.

“Photographs of faces have an impact on quality,” Dr. Yehonatan Turner of Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem, who led the study, said in a telephone interview.

The photo reminds them “it’s not just a case,” said Turner, noting that doctors who saw a patient’s picture when they opened up an electronic file were more meticulous and more aggressive at looking for suspicious findings.

For the study, Turner and colleagues evaluated the quality of reports on 318 patients who underwent computed tomography, or CT scans, an advanced type of X-ray.

Each patient agreed to be photographed prior to the exam and these images were added to their electronic files, appearing automatically when the file was opened.

The exams were reviewed by 15 radiologists.

Three months later, 81 of these exams with unexpected abnormalities that were spotted by the radiologists when a picture was included in the file were shown again to the doctors without the photograph present. These so-called incidental findings on an image might suggest health implications beyond the scope of the original exam.

Out of the cases that were presented twice, doctors missed these incidental findings 80 percent of the time when the photograph was omitted from the file.

In some cases, the photographs showed how illness was taking a physical toll on the patient. In a questionnaire, all of the radiologists said viewing the photos made them feel more empathy for the patients.

Turner said the photographs appear to make the radiologists more mindful of what is at stake for patients.

“Adding a photo had a positive impact on a radiologist’s performance,” Turner said.

Editing by Philip Barbara