I read with considerable interest a recent article about a scientific study of humans’ abilities to accurately perceive visual stimuli. An article on News-Medical.net entitled “Research provides new insights on the border between conscious and unconscious perception,” and published on September 22, reported on a fascinating new study coming out of the Department of Epileptology at the University Hospital of Bonn, in Germany, one of the biggest epilepsy research centers in Europe.
As the article noted, “Whether or not we consciously perceive the stimuli projected onto our retina is decided in our brain. A recent study by the University of Bonn shows how some signals dissipate along the processing path to conscious perception. This process begins at rather late stages of signal processing,” the article said, quoting a paper that was recently published in the journal Current Biology.
The article went on to note that “The researchers are basing their study on a well-known phenomenon: When presented with two images in rapid succession, humans can only consciously perceive the second one if there is sufficient time between the two presentations. In this study, the participants saw a series of pictures on a computer screen, where each image was presented for just over one tenth of a second.”
The patients whose responses were examined included patients at the University Hospital of Bonn with severe cases of medial temporal lobe epilepsy, which can result in the removal of brain tissue that triggers epileptic seizures. In some cases, physicians are implanting electrodes into patients’ brains to localize the epileptic focus for later resection. As a byproduct,” the News-Medical.net article noted, “researchers can make use of this circumstance to virtually 'watch' the patients think.” And what the researchers found, essentially, is that, as Dr. Thomas P. Reber, one of the authors of the study, explained it, is that,
“Whenever both target stimuli were presented in close succession, participants reported in a little under half of the cases to only have seen the first one. This allowed us to compare conscious and unconscious processing of identical picture presentations”—providing researchers with new insights into the complexity around how the brain processes visual stimuli.
Images are incredibly important, on so many levels. And what about diagnostic imaging studies in healthcare? Healthcare system leaders are attempting to address the tremendous complexity involved in determining how, when, and where diagnostic images, imaging studies, and imaging reports, might and should be appropriately shared among clinicians, as value-based healthcare delivery and payment move forward in U.S. healthcare. Healthcare leaders face many challenges, including some very basic, practical ones, such as the “size” or “weight” of diagnostic images, relative to the channels through which they are sent from one location to another. As the November/December cover story finds, some healthcare leaders are looking at innovative ways to allow for image-sharing without data transport overload. Such terms as “server-side rendering” are percolating up now, as providers, health plans, and vendors experiment with new strategies and technologies for advancing image sharing across healthcare.
And it’s not only radiology that is changing as a result of so many cross-current trends. The specialty of pathology is also on the verge of being transformed. As noted in the cover story’s companion piece, pathologists’ diagnosing based on evidence from digital pathology, rather than the time-honored insistence on turning to tissue samples on glass slides, is set to be overturned by new technologies and policies.
What’s clear, going forward, is that healthcare IT leaders are going to need to strategize forward very thoughtfully and flexibly, as the new world of images—of all kinds—is changing now—at the speed of light.