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Is It Time To Log Radiation Exposure For Diagnostic Testing?

At least one hospital system thinks so. Intermountain Healthcare began tallying patients' cumulative radiation exposure from diagnostic testing in order to track the use of high-exposure tests and encourage doctors to consider tests that cause less exposure. The purpose is not to limit tools that can be used to properly diagnose a condition or avoid misdiagnosis, but to limit the tests that are completed - and the related radiation exposure - to only those that are medically necessary.

A recent study that analyzed patient outcomes over a 10-year-period tied radiation exposure from diagnostic testing to increased risk for developing certain cancers later in life. Specifically, those who received computed tomography screens - CT scans or CAT scans - are at a greater risk of cancer than those who do not.

At the same time, the rate of use of CT scans has been increasing throughout the United States. Over a 26-year time span, the number of CT scans completed in the U.S. rose from three million to 60 million each year.

Intermountain will be tracking the tests that produce the highest radiation exposure: cardiac catheterization procedures, nuclear cardiology, CT scans and angiography. Some question whether the increased awareness of physicians and patients will lead to patients declining necessary diagnostic testing. Intermountain reports that this has not happened, but that patients have asked about options for imaging that involves less radiation exposure when the issue was addressed.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) launched its own awareness campaign in 2010 aimed at educating health care professionals and patients about the risks of unnecessary radiation exposure related to medical imaging. The state of California has also taken steps to ensure patient safety in its hospitals, requiring that patients and physicians be made aware of the radiation levels associated with a CT scan.

Source: American Medical News, "Project tallies lifetime radiation from health scans," June 24, 2013

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