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“Inattentional blindness” may lead to a missed cancer diagnosis

On Behalf of | Jun 18, 2021 | Medical Malpractice

From overlooking key symptoms or failing to order appropriate diagnostic tests to prescribing unnecessary treatments, each year millions of Americans receive some kind of misdiagnosis from a trusted health care provider. 

In some cases, even an experienced practitioner may miss signs that should be obvious. In a recent study, researchers found that a common psychological phenomenon known as inattentional blindness may result in radiologists missing important abnormalities in diagnostic scans. 

What is inattentional blindness?

Inattentional blindness occurs when an individual is so focused on a specific task or target that he or she fails to notice obvious but unexpected visual information. For instance, a driver watching out for other motorists on the road may fail to “see” a pedestrian or cyclist. 

How does inattentional blindness affect diagnostic accuracy?

The study found that this observational phenomenon may negatively impact the ability of radiologists to consistently identify potentially dangerous abnormalities. 

In the experiment, researchers asked a group of technicians with varying levels of education and experience to examine a chest CT scan for signs of lung cancer. 

Perhaps because participants were specifically focused on finding evidence of lung cancer, nearly two-thirds of technicians missed a significant breast mass in the same image, and one-third overlooked an irregular lymph node. 

How might a misdiagnosis affect patient health outcomes?

These findings are especially troubling because they involve one of the most progressive and often aggressive groups of diseases: cancer. Without a timely diagnosis, cancer patients may not benefit from early intervention treatments, which may mean much more expensive, more invasive and less effective options for recovery. 

Individuals who have received a faulty or delayed diagnosis for cancer should know that they may be able to receive compensation to help cover mounting bills and seek the level of care they need. 

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