Lesson: The power of adding a small personal touch
Radiologists lead lives of quiet desperation. Ok not quite. Yet unlike their gregarious white robed brethren, radiologists spend all their professional lives alone in a dark room. They are isolated. This was the experience of Israeli radiologist, Yehonaton Turner. But he enjoyed what he did. He feared, however, that his isolation from the patients decreased the meticulousness of his ability to accurately read the scans he received. These were Computer Tomography (CT’s) MRI, X-rays and more. Turner wanted to be a great radiologist; you can say he was desperate to elevate himself and his craft. He knew that what separates a good reader of scans and an average one is their ability to incidentally find an abnormality on the scans. This occurs when a patient comes in with a broken arm, and the radiologist spots a cyst on his elbow, this is called an “incidental finding.” One can say that the most important person on a doctor’s team is the radiologist who actually looks at and reads all the scans sent to him. Yehonaton feared that since he rarely met the patient, and since he received dozens of scans a day, the scans would resemble mere . . . scans. He feared, in other words, that a scan would no longer be a person to a radiologist, but just some lines on a black piece of paper.
Turner had an idea to fix this.
He wanted to try an experiment to prove his thesis. He chose 300 patients, and requested to take their photo. Then, he attached the photo to their CT (computed tomography) scan and sent them to be read by the radiologists.
The lonely doctors reported back that they were surprised at feeling more empathy toward the patient. Moreover, they were sure they had been more thorough with the photos attached.
Turner was glad to hear this, but he wanted more evidence. He wanted hard proof. To dig deeper he decided to resend some scans back to the radiologist who had read it. He waited three months, and then sent back 81 scans. These were all scans where doctors had originally spotted incidental findings. He sent it back to the radiologists who had already read it, but he did not inform them of what he was doing. In the monotony of radiology readings, one scan looks remarkably like the next scan. This time there would be no photos of patients.
The drop in incidental findings shocked even Turner. 80% had gone unnoticed in this second round. That means that had those 81 patients who had incidental findings to discover, not had a photo attached, approximately 64 of these findings may not have been spotted.
It was not long before it became common practice to include a photograph of the patient for pap smears, blood work, and numerous others, besides just CT’s.
\Radiologists don’t actually lead lives any lonelier than anyone else, not even professionally. Any professional inundated with clients can easily become dulled to the data. A physician even can begin to see charts and graphs and health prescriptions rather than an overworked single mom of three. A lawyer can see the hundreds of pages of casework and forget the dad who is about to lose custody of his child.
The personal touch of a photograph can increase performance and improve quality.