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Simple Photos May Boost Radiologists’ Efficiency

December 2, 2008

Radiologists may improve their performance by simply seeing a photograph of their patient, researchers reported on Tuesday.

Yehonatan N. Turner, radiology resident at Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem, Israel, led a team of researchers who found that radiologists performed better when they were supplied with a photo of the patient along with the imaging exam.

Technological advances have further distanced the radiologist from interaction with the patient. With the advent of teleradiology, radiologists are now able to view images from remote locations via the Internet or satellite. Researchers said the photos create a more intimate relationship between radiologists and their patients.

“Our study emphasizes approaching the patient as a human being and not as an anonymous case study,” said Turner. “We feel it is important to counteract the anonymity that is common in radiologic exams, especially with the growth of teleradiology.”

A total of 318 patients agreed to be photographed before their computed tomography, or CT scans. These photos were attached to their files in the hospital’s picture archiving and communication system (PACS) so that radiologists saw the image alongside the patient’s file.

After interpreting the results of the exams, 15 radiologists from Shaare Zedek Medical Center were given questionnaires to gather data about their experience.

They all admitted feeling more empathy towards the patients after viewing their photos. In addition, the photographs revealed medical information such as suffering or physical signs of disease.

Three months later, the doctors unknowingly viewed the same 81 scans, but without patients’ photos. This time, the doctors failed to report 80 percent of the incidental findings.

“We look but we don’t always report” these incidental findings, particularly if they are considered unlikely to affect the patients’ outcome, said study co-author Dr. Irith Hadas-Halpern, a radiologist at the Jerusalem hospital.

Researchers agreed that adding patients’ photos to their medical file was a simple, low-tech way to reap rewards for both doctors and their patients.

“Once you see that this is a human being … the attitude changes,” Hadas-Halpern said. “You see this is a young woman, an old suffering man. It adds something.”

Results of the study were presented at the Radiological Society of North America meeting in Chicago.

“Feeling more connected with the patient and actually working a little harder totally makes sense from what we understand about the way the brain works in terms of facial recognition and attachment,” said Dr. Joan Anzia, a Northwestern Memorial Hospital psychiatrist.

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