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Inattentional blindness may lead to inaccurate radiology reports

Millions of Americans receive a misdiagnosis each year. From failing to recognize key symptoms or order appropriate diagnostics to prescribing unnecessary treatments, when a trusted medical professional draws the wrong conclusions, the results can be financially, physically and emotionally devastating for the patient.

In some cases, a health care practitioner may miss evidence that should be obvious. A recent study found that even experienced radiologists may overlook significant abnormalities due to a psychological phenomenon known as inattentional blindness.

How inattentional blindness may affect report accuracy

Inattentional blindness occurs when an individual’s attention is so focused on a specific task that he or she fails to perceive obvious but unexpected visual information.

In one study, researchers asked a group of physicians with various levels of experience to read a chest CT image and identify signs of lung cancer. Alarmingly, two-thirds of the participants failed to notice a large breast mass in the same scan, and one-third missed an abnormal lymph node.

Another report by Coverys Red Signal found that misinterpretation of clinical tests contributes to about 80% of radiology misdiagnosis claims. Among radiology claims, missed cancer diagnoses are the most common. The top four types of cancer most frequently overlooked include ovarian, breast, pancreatic and lung cancers.

How a misdiagnosis may affect patient health

Making an accurate, timely diagnosis is essential for properly treating many conditions, especially progressive diseases like cancer. A patient whose physician fails to identify underlying issues, or misidentifies them, may find his or her health irreparably compromised.

When a negligent misdiagnosis leads to injury or worsening health, that negligence may rise to the level of medical malpractice. Affected individuals should know that they may be eligible to receive needed compensation.