Intermountain radiation-tracking initiative a step in the right direction

Both patients and referring physicians aren't as knowledgeable as they should be about medical radiation. For instance, a study published last December in JAMA Internal Medicine found that patients in the U.S. are woefully uninformed about imaging and radiation exposure; in the study 31 percent of patients undergoing a CT scan didn't even understand the scan involved radiation. Additionally, a study published in 2011 in Clinical Radiology, found that physicians in the U.K. remain fairly uniformed about medical radiation exposure. 

That's why last week's news about Intermountain Healthcare's initiative to track, measure and report cumulative patient radiation exposure from medical imaging examinations is so welcome. The measure will be spread across all of the Salt Lake City-based system's hospitals, as well as dozens of physician clinics.

Intermountain is not unique in making such an effort--many hospitals have taken similar steps to track radiation dosages--but the tool is the first major system of its kind to measure and report patients' cumulative medical radiation exposure from tests that deliver the highest amount of radiation. For example, St. Louis Children's Hospital recently implemented a system that records the intensity of X-ray radiation exposure after each pediatric CT test and lists the exposure amount in a pediatric patient's electronic health record.

What's more, researchers are coming up with innovative ways to track exposure to medical radiation. The international Atomic Energy Agency has been working on a technology called SmartCard/SmartRadTrack through which patients would carry smart cards with unique identifiers. The cards then would be read at imaging facilities to enable patients to retrieve medical records, including radiologic exams and dose information.

Education of referring physicians and patients can lead to substantial reductions in CT radiation dose, which is what makes the Intermountain program so noteworthy. Both physicians and patients--through the electronic medical record--have access to information to education about the risks and benefits of medical radiation.

The more information physicians and their patients have about medical radiation and individual patient radiation histories, and the better educated they are, the better they'll be able to determine the appropriateness of imaging studies and, consequently, avoid unnecessary radiation exposure. - Mike  @FierceHealthIT

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