NIH Hospital to Track Radiation Exposure for Patients

USA Today recently reported that the National Institutes of Health (NIH) will begin to track radiation exposure for patients. For years we’ve heard that there’s no risk associated with radiation exposure from medical imaging tests. However, recent studies suggests that the risk is higher than previously thought.

In December, the Archives of Internal Medicine published a study which found that radiation from imaging procedures like CT scans causes 29,000 new cancers and 14,500 deaths per year. Another study in the same journal concluded that patients received four times as much radiation from imaging tests as previously believed. It’s quite disconcerting that previous estimates were so far off the mark for so long. In the meantime, millions of people were exposed to dangerous levels of radiation. Children are especially vulnerable to the effects of radiation.

Hopefully other hospitals will follow the example set by NIH. The NIH hospital will use electronic medical records to keep tabs on cumulative radiation exposure received by patients. This should reduce the number of preventable cancers caused by the practice of medicine. Patients will be able to take the records with them to keep track of radiation exposure.

Radiation imaging equipment does not deliver a standard dose of radiation. Doses vary, and other factors affect the level of radiation as well, such as the size of the patient, the area scanned, and the number of scans. That’s why it’s important to keep track of radiation exposure on an individual basis.

"It is an absolutely necessary first step toward monitoring patient dose," said Rebecca Smith-Bindman, author of one of the aforementioned studies. "I suspect in the not-so-distant future this will be required of all institutions."

“What we've realized for a long time is there is no ability currently to understand at any given moment how many radiation-producing exams a patient has had," said Dr. David Bluemke, director of radiology and imaging at the NIH Clinical Center.

General Electric, Siemens, Philips and Toshiba are major manufacturers of imaging equipment, and they will have to make some changes in order for the electronic medical records software to keep track of radiation levels.

"The first contracts we've had are with Siemens Medical,” Bluemke said. They are very happy to comply. They've started a demonstration project on this already.”

Once this capability is standard on imaging machines, other hospitals and clinics should begin to record cumulative radiation exposure.

GE Healthcare made the following statement: “The next step is for cross-industry coordination among all stakeholders involved in a patient's care so that standardized dose-related information can be captured and recorded in as convenient and usable format as possible.”

CT scans use high doses of radiation compared to traditional x-rays. A chest CT scan, for instance, exposes the patient to 100 times the radiation in a chest x-ray. CT scans have become widely used in the United States. In 2007, there were 70 million CT scans performed. In 1980, there were only about 3 million performed.

Radiation can cause cancer, even when imaging equipment is working properly. CT scans should only be used when necessary. I’ve heard of cases where CT scans are used unnecessarily only because of an insurance company protocol. Let’s hope that keeping track of exposure will put an end to these practices. Further, when imaging equipment is defective, risk of cancer and other injuries are much higher. Last year hundreds of patients at the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles received up to eight times the normal radiation dose during scans.

If you’ve suffered an injury by defective medical equipment, contact an experienced Atlanta, Georgia personal injury attorney immediately. You may be entitled to compensation. Call MLN Law at 404-531-9700.