The entire imaging community is accountable when it comes to radiation and patient safety.

We hear a good deal about accountability these days. When Wall Street nearly collapsed, there was plenty of finger pointing to go around. Depending on your point of view, the economic crisis was the fault of greedy bankers, a misguided administration, or the average overextended American living beyond their means. The current Gulf oil spill is yet another example. While the big oil company is at fault for the initial accident, what about our administration? Many say the government’s inert response to the dire incident is equally egregious.

Today’s news reports can play out like a Greek tragedy with fatal flaws (be it greed, arrogance, or inaction) suddenly exposed and trusted heroes (ie, CEOs or political figures) falling from grace. While we all know there are complexities to any crisis, the media seems to thrive on serving up the story with a definitive mix of victims and villains. But does this game of pinning-the-blame do anything to alleviate the problem at hand?

Crisis situations can bring out the worst in us—or the best. The imaging community has faced a few of its own predicaments recently, as it concerns exposure to radiation.

It is heartening to know that when the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center experienced a CT accident and 206 patients received a CT brain perfusion scan that subjected them to a dose of radiation eight times higher than it should have been, the hospital took responsibility. Moreover, the medical imaging community looked at it as a lesson. Recognizing that accidents can happen anywhere, the imaging community has pulled together like a strong ensemble cast. There seems to be an understanding that everyone—from physicians to manufacturers to technologists—must play a role in managing radiation exposure, especially when it comes to pediatric patients. To learn more, read our special report, “Raising the Bar for Lower Dose”.

In a recent CT radiation dose briefing hosted by Siemens Healthcare, medical imaging experts gathered to discuss the challenges and the solutions concerning radiation dose and CT imaging. Cynthia McCollough, MD, professor of radiological physics at the Mayo Clinic, pointed out that one of the consequences of the negative press about CT scans and radiation exposure is that patients are refusing to have medically needed exams and their care may be jeopardized. She then outlined the steps she believes need to be taken to keep medical imaging as safe as possible:”First, the mandate to use imaging or any medical test appropriately is being heard loud and clear, and the professional appropriateness criteria are available and decision support tools being made more and more available to help doctors order the right tests for the right patients.

“Second, the manufacturers and the researchers are continuing to develop technical innovations that continue to bring the doses down while at the same time the image quality is actually getting better and there are new, more noninvasive tests being offered.

“And third, there is the recognition that these devices are advanced pieces of equipment and that we need proper education and training of techs who operate them, the physicists who test and optimize the equipment, and the physicians who prescribe the exam protocols.”

In short, managing radiation exposure and ensuring patient safety is a collaborative effort. Everyone in the imaging community is accountable. Are you playing your part to its fullest?

Marianne Matthews

Marianne Matthews