Study shows patients’ photos on x-rays may cut identification errors

X-ray images can be an important part of diagnosing illness. However, one patient's x-ray can look very much like another - and if doctors are looking at the wrong patient's x-ray, they can easily misdiagnose what is wrong with a patient. Researchers from Emory University shared results of a study at the American Roentgen Ray Society meeting in April 2013 that showed how doctors can reduce the number of x-ray errors they commit.

Photos help doctors identify errors

Researchers generated 88 chest x-ray images for the study, taking one recent image and one past image from each patient, and made lists of 20 pairs from the 88 x-rays for test subjects to review. Researchers deliberately mismatched two to four pairs in each set. Researchers asked 10 doctors to review two sets of x-rays without informing them of the mismatches. The first set the doctors received had no patient photos on them, and the second set had photos. Researchers did not tell the doctors what the photos were for the first time they ran their experiment.

When doctors were reviewing x-rays without photos, they caught the mismatched x-rays only 12.5 percent of the time. When they looked at x-rays with patient photos, the error identification rate rose to 64 percent.

After the initial trial, researchers learned that some of the subjects deliberately ignored the photos because they believed that the point of the experiment was to see if they would be distracted by the pictures. Researchers conducted another trial with five new doctors, instructing the doctors to use the photos to assist them in interpreting the x-rays - but still not telling them about the mismatched x-rays. The error detection rate increased to 94 percent in that trial.

Eliminating x-ray mistakes

The study's authors suggested that their findings support the idea of adding patient photos to x-rays to cut down on the number of x-ray errors. Experts estimate that about one in 10,000 x-ray exams have wrong patient errors. In order to obtain patient photos for the study, researchers needed another person to assist the x-ray technician to take the pictures after the x-ray was complete. Researchers have designed a prototype of a camera that mounts to a portable x-ray machine so that technicians can take photos without additional work.

Speak with an attorney

Health care providers have a duty to provide quality care. When they do not fulfill their responsibilities, they need to answer for their failures. If you have been injured because of a health care provider's mistake, talk to an experienced medical malpractice attorney who can help you recover for your losses.