Radiologists’ diagnostic accuracy drops as the day goes on

September 17, 2010

Now there’s proof after a day of interpreting images radiologists are less accurate, more tired, unable to focus, and experience eyestrain compared to earlier in the day. A study in the Journal of the American College of Radiology compared the ability of radiologists and residents to read bone exams earlier in the day to later in the day.

Now there’s proof after a day of interpreting images radiologists are less accurate, more tired, unable to focus, and experience eyestrain compared to earlier in the day. A study in the Journal of the American College of Radiology compared the ability of radiologists and residents to read bone exams earlier in the day to later in the day.

Compared to later in the day radiologists experienced greater eyestrain and higher levels of fatigue. Because the radiologists had increased visual strain, they were less able to focus on images, which made the radiologists less accurate when interpreting images.

The study, conducted at the University of Arizona and the University of Iowa, required attending radiologists and residents to view 60 bone exams, half of which had fractures. The study participants looked at the exams before any diagnostic reading activity in the morning and then again after diagnostic reading activity in the afternoon. Participants had to determine if a fracture was present and then locate it with their cursor.

“Our study demonstrated reduced diagnostic accuracy after the radiology workday, but the difference between accuracy before and after work was small, on the order of 4%,” said Elizabeth Krupinski, Ph.D., from the department of radiology at the University of Arizona in Tucson. “It seems that our sample of 40 readers reading 60 multiview examinations was just sufficient to detect this difference at the .05 significance level.”

A limitation of the study is the participants only viewed radiographic images and not CT or MR images, which contain hundreds of images that must be scrolled through. Reading CT and MR images is potentially more fatiguing than reading x-rays, according to the authors.

To our readers: How do you combat late-day fatigue?

The study above found that radiologists are more prone to reading errors after a full day of interpretations. With workloads increasing and many radiologists putting in 50-hour work weeks, what are some of the techniques they can use to avoid reading fatigue later in their day? Share your tips below.