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The study was being released Tuesday at the Radiological Society of North America meeting in Chicago. Dr. Yonatan Turner, a radiology resident, hatched the study idea as a way to make the job less impersonal.
Dr. Joan Anzia, a Northwestern Memorial Hospital psychiatrist, said adding photos is "simple and ingenious."
"Feeling more connected with the patient and actually working a little harder totally makes sense from what we understand about the way the brain works in terms of facial recognition and attachment," Anzia said.
From early infancy, she explained, the brain is programmed to respond to faces, and that response is the beginning of an emotional attachment.
Dr. Eric Stern, a University of Washington radiologist, said the study was important "because technology has absolutely dehumanized the patient."
Stern said he saw a rare example of patients' photos accompanying radiology files when he reviewed chest X-rays of Southeast Asian immigrants as part of a tuberculosis control program. Photos were included for identifying purposes because many patients had similar last names, Stern said.
"I found it to be an unexpected pleasure to be able to put a face to the X-ray," he said.
Stern said there could be drawbacks to using patients' photos if something about their appearance -- race or an angry demeanor, for example -- triggered radiologists' biases.
But he said the benefits of potentially increasing empathy would far outweigh potential biases.
On the Net:
Radiological Society: http://www.rsna.org/
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