When it comes to cancer, receiving a timely diagnosis can mean the difference between life and death for many patients.
Unfortunately, medical providers may miss signs of cancer even when the evidence is clear from medical scans. Recent studies have found that the psychological phenomenon of “inattentional blindness” may lead radiologists to overlook obvious cancer signs if they are not specifically looking for them.
What is inattentional blindness?
Inattentional blindness is a psychological phenomenon that can affect how individuals perceive the world around them. Faced with an overwhelming amount of visual information, the human brain often filters out data that may not seem relevant. For instance, a driver may not see the pedestrian in the crosswalk because he or she is looking out for other cars.
Similarly, a recent U.S. study found that radiologists may easily miss signs of cancer when reviewing patient scans. In the experiment, researchers asked medical professionals with varying levels of training and experience to examine a specific scan for evidence of lung cancer. However, perhaps because the study participants were looking specifically for lung cancer, 30% of the radiologists failed to notice a swollen lymph node and 66% failed to notice potential signs of breast cancer.
How might a missed diagnosis impact health outcomes?
A missed or delayed cancer diagnosis may result in the need for invasive, potentially costly treatment. In other cases, a patient’s condition may already be terminal. Patients and their families should know that the law may entitle them to compensation for both the emotional and financial hardship that a physician’s negligence may have caused.