Many of us in San Francisco have heard that radiation exposure is bad for you. It can increase a patient’s chances of developing cancer and have other negative side effects. However, we also know that many patients need to undergo treatments, procedures and tests that involve radiation. So how do doctors decide when a patient should and should not be exposed to radiation?
Right now, doctors at a hospital in Utah are piloting a program that tracks how often patients have been exposed to radiation and provides that information to physicians. The hope is that physicians can use the information to make informed decisions about when to recommend that a patient undergo a test or procedure that will expose him or her to radiation.
Today, the culture of medicine is to make sure patients undergo every test possible to ensure that they are healthy or to rule out possibilities. By 2006, for example, doctors were performing 60 million CT scans each year. In 1980, they were only performing 3 million. Although running tests like CT scans can rule out possible illnesses, CT scans are very expensive and aren’t always necessary. The doctors piloting the new program are hoping that doctors will think twice before ordering these tests and procedures if a patient has already had substantial exposure to radiation. It could prevent serious injuries to patients later on.
Fortunately, our state is doing its part to keep patients safe as well. c As we continue to learn more about the harmful effects of radiation exposure, hopefully doctors will think carefully before putting patients in that position.
Source: American Medical News, “Project tallies lifetime radiation from health scans,” Christine S. Moyer, June 24, 2013