In past posts, we have looked at some conditions that are common in doctors and dentists—such as carpal tunnel syndrome and essential tremors—and discussed ways that these conditions can affect both your practice and your disability insurance claim. In this post, we will be discussing a few unique conditions that—while they may not be severe enough to cause you to file for disability benefits—can be particularly inconvenient for doctors and dentists.
Roughly 15% of people suffer from a condition that makes it difficult for them to differentiate between their left and their right. While this may be a mere annoyance for most people, it can be a significant problem for a doctor or a dentist.
One doctor tells the story of how he mistakenly ordered an x-ray for the wrong foot of a patient, and the radiologist insisted on performing the x-ray on the foot that the doctor had indicated even though it was very obvious which foot was injured. Due to the confusion, the patient ended up leaving the doctor’s care. In other, more extreme cases, “wrong-side surgery” has occurred due to left-right confusion.
Face-blindness, or prosopagnosia, is a cognitive disorder that affects people’s ability to identify faces and places. It is much less common than right-left confusion, occurring in only about 2.5% of people. Face-blindness also exists on a spectrum, with some people having mild prosopagnosia, while others are unable to pick out the faces of their spouses or children in a crowd.
While face-blindness doesn’t necessarily have a large effect on operations, it can negatively impact your relationships with patients. For instance, if patients are unaware that you suffer from face-blindness, they may be offended if you fail to recognize them outside the office setting. Fortunately, in most instances, prosopagnosics can use other characteristics, such as posture or voice, and contextual clues, such as location, to identify an unfamiliar face.
Like left-right confusion, dyslexia also affects approximately 15% of Americans. This condition affects the way that the brain processes language, both written and spoken. It is often referred to as a “reading disability,” but it can also affect writing, spelling, and speaking. Although there are various therapies designed to minimize the effects of dyslexia, in most cases dyslexia is a lifelong condition.
Many doctors with dyslexia do not reveal their condition for fear of stunting their professional growth or causing patients to lose trust. However, as one dyslexic doctor has observed, first-hand awareness of personal deficiencies can actually enhance patient trust, because it can make a physician more compassionate and understanding. Another dyslexic doctor considers her dyslexia to be a gift because it has made her a more creative problem solver and enhanced her ability to recognize patterns, which has proved very useful in her chosen field of radiology.
While these conditions may not be severe enough to support a disability insurance claim, they can change the way that you approach your practice and patients. It’s important to be aware of these conditions because even if you don’t have any of these conditions, a colleague or patient might. We encourage you to be cognizant and understanding of others’ disabilities, and to foster a culture of acceptance and accommodation in the medical field.
 See http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/08/10/you-will-see-the-doctors-fallibility-now/?smid=tw-nytimeswell&seid=auto.
 For more info on face-blindness, see http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2010/08/30/face-blind.
 See http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/02/26/us-dyslexic-physicians-idUSKBN0LU2E520150226.