Patient photos personalize imaging exams, affect radiologists’ approach to reading

December 3, 2008
David Ma

Including a patient’s photo with imaging exam results produces a psychological boost that leads radiologists to take a more personal, emphatic approach to interpretation, according an Israeli study presented Tuesday at the 2008 RSNA meeting.

Including a patient's photo with imaging exam results produces a psychological boost that leads radiologists to take a more personal, emphatic approach to interpretation, according an Israeli study presented Tuesday at the 2008 RSNA meeting.

"Faces are special," said Dr. Yehonatan N. Turner, M.D., the lead author and a radiology resident at Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem, during a news conference. "Research has shown that primates perceive faces differently than they perceive other objects."

As a resident, Turner noticed that he performed ultrasound examinations differently than CT examinations. He attributed the difference to the direct patient contact involved with ultrasound scanning.

"With ultrasound you can see the patient and you take on a different attitude. I wanted a method to treat each CT scan uniquely," he said.

Investigators attached photographs to the files of 315 patients referred for CT when the files were sent for interpretation. Senior radiologists read the scans twice, with an interval of three months separating the two readings.

Patients in the study were divided into three groups:

  • photos included during the first reading but not the second;
  • photos included during the second reading and not the first; and
  • photos not included during either reading.

"We evaluated the reports using four criteria," Turner said. "One was the number of words in the report, another was the number of incidental findings. Incidental findings were any abnormalities that were not included with the original report. We also evaluated the presence of a summary and the presence of further recommendations for treatment."

In the two groups for which photos were included during one of the readings, scores for all four criteria were higher when a photo was included compared with when they were not. The control group showed no consistent patterns.

Fifteen radiologists were also surveyed for their opinions of including a photo with patient files. All agreed that the photo helped them relate to the patient and made them feel more like an attending physician. Additionally, the photograph revealed physical features that could provide significant medical insight into possible conditions.

"These results imply that adding the photo improves radiologist performance," Turner said. "We recommend adding patients' photos to their files as a routine protocol."