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Doctors who read diagnostic images – such as x-rays, MRIs, and CT scans – see a lot of pictures over the course of their day. One picture they usually don’t see, however, is an actual photograph of the patient whose images they are reviewing. According to a recent study, radiologists who see photos of the patient may do a better job when reviewing diagnostic images.

The study was devised by Dr. Yehonatan N. Turner, who thought that adding a patient’s photo to their file might cause radiologists to empathize with the patient on an individual level. The radiologists involved in the study reviewed the images with photographs more meticulously, but without taking any more time. As a result, the doctors reported more incidental findings than in images not supplemented with photos. In other words, patients whose photos were included in their file ended up getting a better picture of their health than those without.

The study is far from conclusive, and the researchers did not address certain issues regarding accuracy of the readings. Still, it raises important questions about doctors’ ability to empathize with patients in this era of managed care. As we’ve previously pointed out, many doctors are already approaching a breaking point due to heavy caseloads and an inherently stressful job. Anything than can help personalize the doctor-patient relationship should be embraced.

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