Colour Blindness and Medicine

The following article was written by Anthony Spalding, one of the authors of the site Colour Blindness and Medicine. Please read on what he has to tell us about this interesting topic and visit this great site with a lot of useful information for all colorblind people interested in medical careers.

The aim of the website is primarily practical. It is to give information on the practice of medicine for those with colour vision deficiency. There is a sizeable body of evidence that this deficiency is a problem in medicine:

  • Medical practitioners report difficulty seeing the redness of inflammation and fresh blood in body products.
  • They have difficulty recognising pallor and the body colour changes of jaundice and cyanosis.
  • The colour stains in histological preparations can be a problem as can the colour codes used in charts and instrument displays.

There is the risk of medical error with adverse consequences for patients. Moreover, medical practitioners may be anxious about the risk of error and have diminished confidence in their diagnostic ability.

Colored Pills – a problem for colorblind doctors and patients.

In a survey of colour vision deficient medical practitioners some made remarks such as “You do not necessarily know when you have a problem – others point them out” and “The problem is I do not know what I am missing” and “I feel I am very vulnerable … there are times when patients describe red rashes and I cannot see them and nurses point out the invisible dots.” There are large numbers involved because it has been shown that the prevalence of colour vision deficiency is the same in the medical profession as in the population at large.

The situation in the medical profession is complex without any immediate solution to all the problems it presents. Among these problems are

  • the varying degrees of severity of the deficiency,
  • the different demands on colour vision made by the different specialties,
  • and changing technologies in medicine.

In addition there are at present few with adequate training to give the needed advice. It may well be that optometrists if they are made aware of the medical aspects will be the best group to advise individuals towards their career choice. This will be appreciated by medical students: in a survey of 155 color vision deficient medical students by Burke a common refrain was that they did not get advice and support to help them deal with their problem with colour. Seventy-four per cent of Burke’s sample said that it would be useful in their future career to have a full colour vision assessment so that they knew the type and severity of their defect.

The issues involved are sensitive because the safety and care of patients is involved and also the careers of medical students and qualified doctors. It is not surprising that those responsible for standards in medicine have been reluctant to make definitive statements on this issue. We do not advocate the introduction of a colour vision requirement for entry to medical courses.

We take the view that all medical students who have abnormal colour vision should be aware of their deficiency before entering a medical course, and of its severity, have an appreciation of the kind of problems it may cause in their chosen career, and avoid those careers that may cause unavoidable problems. They will then be readier to seek advice and better equipped to find ways to avoid their problems.

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