TJC sentinel alert cautions hospitals from over-radiating patients

In light of the recent heated debate on diagnostic radiation testing, The Joint Commission yesterday released a Sentinel Event Alert in which the accrediting body warned healthcare organizations about the long-term risks to patients, encouraging them to implement "reasonable alternatives."

Acknowledging that diagnostic testing such as X-rays and CT scans can be effective tools in saving lives, The Joint Commission said that accredited organizations should consider the potential harmful effects of repeat exposure to radiation.

The Joint Commission's Sentinel Alert follows recent reports of soaring rates of diagnostic test usage. For example, the number of CT scans has increased 330 percent from 1996 to 2007, according to this month's Annals of Emergency Medicine.

"You can't keep increasing your rate of scanning the way we are," Dr. Keith Kocher of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor told Reuters Health. "Eventually you're just going to be scanning everybody, and that doesn't make any sense."

Another study in the Archives of Internal Medicine found that instead of diagnosing patients with scans, taking thorough examines and medical histories may be more helpful.

Other alternative approaches include getting peer feedback to see if the test is necessary and gaining prior authorization for cost consideration.

The Joint Commission recommends organizations evaluate whether their tests, doses, and technology are safe and appropriate. In addition, it suggests improving the safety culture and effective processes to carry out the new, increased focus on diagnostic testing.  

To learn more:
- check out TJC Sentinel Event Alert (.pdf)
- read the Reuters article

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