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Watch out for the dancing gorilla

It seems radiologists and basketball fans share something unexpected in common.

Namely, the inability to see dancing gorillas. A recent study by a Harvard psychologist studying inattentional blindness looked at the ability of radiologists to spot tiny features on a thoracic CT that might indicate lung cancer. They were, as you might expect, very good at this.

Except, on some of the CTs was a deliberately superimposed, out-of-place image – a dancing gorilla.

And when questioned later 80% of the radiologists said they had not seen the gorilla, despite eye-tracking scans showing they had looked directly at it.

It seems that our vitamin D – deficient colleagues (only joking, guys) are fantastic at spotting subtle indicators of disease on the CTs but miss other things that are somewhat more obvious.

The study builds upon work done in the 1990s when a similar phenomenon was demonstrated in people watching a basketball game, with the aim of counting the number of passes made by members of one of the teams.

In that study a man in a gorilla suit walks onto the court, beats his chest repeatedly then walks off, spending a total of 9 seconds on screen. Half the observers did not see the gorilla.

When you think about it, it isn’t so surprising. We have only so much computing power in our brains, and if too much is going on we miss stuff. Just think back to when you’ve been driving a car whilst having a conversation with the passenger. If something happening on the road has required more of your attention you find you’ve missed part of the conversation you were just having and have to ask them to repeat what they just said.

And the same is true with our private practices, I think.

We spend so much time attending to the ‘task in hand’ – seeing patients – that we neglect the most important aspect of any practice, which is of course the generating of more patients to see in the future.

A problem exacerbated by the fact we are far less familiar with how to get more patients than we are with treating the ones we have, so the easy option is to stick with what we know.

So this weekend, when you’re scanning through your diary for the coming week, why not spend some time considering how to grow your practice, how you’re going to get more patients?

After all, it would be a shame to miss seeing the dancing gorilla in your own practice, wouldn’t it?

Dev Lall runs The Private Practice Expert.

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One Response to “Watch out for the dancing gorilla”

  1. Bob Bury says:

    We spend so much time attending to the ‘task in hand’ – seeing patients – that we neglect the most important aspect of any practice, which is of course the generating of more patients to see in the future.

    It does my old heart good to see the ethos of many private practitioners so clearly and unashamedly spelled out.

    I never did much PP work, but it always seemed to me that the best way to ensure a steady flow of patients was to treat the ones you had well.

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