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DEP Urges Medical Facilities to Take Proper Precautions With X-Ray Equipment to Avoid Health Hazards
Date:3/3/2010

Facilities Asked to Immediately Review Procedures, Reporting Requirements

HARRISBURG, Pa., March 3 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Pennsylvania Environmental Protection Secretary John Hanger today encouraged medical facilities to eliminate potential radiological hazards by reviewing and evaluating their practices and properly calibrating medical diagnostic or therapeutic X-ray devices.

In addition, Hanger reminded facilities of the requirement to report all medical events that may cause unintended harm to patients.

Recent media reports have highlighted serious medical incidents nationally involving diagnostic computed tomography (CT) and radiation therapy procedures. Hanger said these incidents underscore the importance of medical professionals verifying proper patient referral and radiation protection protocols throughout all phases of medical treatment.  

"The use of X-ray diagnostic and therapeutic equipment has brought about dramatic improvements in medical care, but these procedures are not without risk and can harm patients if done improperly," Hanger said. "We are recommending all facilities that are authorized to use this equipment review their procedures and be certain that radiation-producing equipment is operated by properly trained and qualified staff and that they follow all safety protocols."

A 2009 report by the National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements revealed that the U.S. population's average exposure to ionizing radiation from medical procedures grew more than 600 percent between the mid-1980s and 2006.  This is primarily a result of significant increases in the use of sophisticated new high-dose X-ray technologies such as CT, fluoroscopic cardiovascular or other interventional medical procedures.

DEP's Bureau of Radiation Protection this week issued an information notice to approximately 750 medical facilities that perform CT, fluoroscopic and/or medical accelerator procedures with the following recommendations:

  • Re-evaluate calibrations, techniques, protocols and output of all X-ray and radiation therapy devices to ensure optimum use;
  • Develop and adhere to proper protocols for X-ray exams and individual patient profiles (i.e. size, thickness, patient's age, etc.);
  • Ensure educational training programs for medical staff include specific courses and information on patient radiation protection and equipment quality assurance;
  • Use appropriate techniques for pediatric patients;
  • Review the American Society for Radiation Oncology's six-point patient protection plan aimed at improving radiation therapy safety and reducing the chance of medical errors;
  • Submit all Medical Reportable Event notifications in a timely manner per DEP regulations; and
  • Allow only physicians credentialed with an appropriate medical specialty board to perform CT and fluoroscopy procedures. Continuing education in patient radiation safety, image recording, biological effects, and quality assurance and control is a regulatory requirement for all X-ray operators.

"Radiation therapy and diagnostic X-ray procedures for medical purposes have benefits that far outweigh the radiation risks, but unnecessary or excessive radiation exposure must be avoided," Hanger said. "The recently publicized, but very rare, medical events with tragic consequences serve as a poignant reminder that any medical procedure carries some risk. Patients should consult their doctor if they have concerns when referred for diagnostic or therapy X-ray procedures.

"We highly recommend that medical facilities remain vigilant and committed to identifying and implementing equipment and procedural improvements that may reduce yet optimize radiation exposure, and enabling patients to continue receiving high-quality, safe and effective medical care."

DEP licenses and registers approximately 10,000 facilities that use medical diagnostic and therapeutic X-ray equipment.

For more information, visit www.depweb.state.pa.us, keyword: Radiation.

Media contact: Tom Rathbun, 717-787-1323

SOURCE Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection

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