Patient Photos in Chart Lead to Better Care?

A study presented at the Radiological Society of North America suggests that radiologists should have pictures of the patients whose scans they are examining as they begin their analysis. Fifteen radiologists in Jerusalem reviewed computed tomography images along with a photograph of the patient. Months later they reviewed the same CT scan but without a photo. About 300 patients participated in the study.

In the most eye-popping result, the absence of a photograph was associated with an 80% drop in so-called incidental findings, such as when a search for kidney stones turns up a tumor. Incidental findings are often life-saving because they discover pre-symptomatic problems, and the study suggests that radiologists look more carefully for them when a patient photograph is attached.

The study concluded that adding patient photographs to the digital file of all radiographic examinations should be a routine protocol. So what can you do? Bring a photo to your scan, or email one to the scanning center, and ask that it be included in your file.

Some argue that anonymity can be an advantage. “Bringing a human face to medicine is always good. Bringing stereotyping and bias is dangerous,” says Tom Delbanco, a HarvardUniversity professor of medicine.”

More valuable than photographs, some radiologists say, would be enhanced information about the purpose of a particular scan. The overworked clinicians who prescribe scans often provide vague or confusing explanations, and patients often fail to properly fill out forms seeking reasons for the procedure.

So bring a photograph and bring your empowered self. Make sure those taking the scan understand the reason why you are having it. That means you need to pay attention and ask questions of your PCP or specialist physicians.