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Legal Exposure for X-Ray Exposure

by Edward J. Kroger, MD, JD on March 16th, 2011

An increasing number of experts are raising concerns that patients are being harmed from overuse and misuse of radiology studies.  A February 27, 2011 New York Times article described a major medical center in New York that was exposing neonates to wildly excessive doses of radiation, apparently due to poor training by radiology technicians operating x-ray and CT scanners. Surprisingly, there is no national standard for radiology technician training – states individually set standards – and some states have no minimum standards. Efforts to pass a federal standard stalled in Congress. Many medical radiology units are not professionally accredited.

Dr. Rebecca Smith-Bindman is a Professor of Radiology; Epidemiology/Biostatistics; and Obstetrics/Gynecology/Reproductive Services at the University of California, San Francisco. In February 2010 she testified before Congress about the risks and benefits of medical imaging. In her research, she has found that for nearly all types of CT’s, the radiation doses were “much higher than commonly reported, that the radiation dose varied substantially between different facilities, and that even within the same facility doses varied dramatically between patients evaluated for the same clinical problem.” She noted one patient who received 20 times the amount of radiation as another patient during routine head CT’s when both studies were done at the same institution. She testified that for some patients, the risk of developing cancer from a single CT exam could be as high as 1/100. She described the explosion of CT scanning in traditional settings as well as by private businesses offering full CT body screening for healthy individuals. Dr. Smith-Bindman offered Congress a road map for improving the safety of CT imaging.

An excellent article by Dr. Bob Wachter further illustrates the concerns. One–in-five Americans will receive a CT scan in any given year. It is estimated that CT radiation cause 29,000 excess cancers each year, particularly in women.  Fifteen thousand people will die from the direct effects of the 72 million CT scans performed in 2007 alone.

The increased publicity and medical concern regarding excessive radiation will not go unnoticed by plaintiff attorneys. Health care institutions may want to proactively review their radiology programs, training, procedures, and services. Ultimately, such attention will benefit patients and reduce health care costs.

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From → Health Law