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A New Way of Thinking About Patient Radiation Exposure

Patients benefit the most from lifetime radiation exposure and dose tracking systems. For example, if doctors have immediate access to patients' previous records, patients can avoid additional, unnecessary scans that use ionizing radiation. (Photo: UNIDO)

"It's only been two years since the phased implementation of centralised patient radiation exposure tracking in Egypt, but there's already been a significant change, especially in referring physicians," says Dina El Husseiny of Egypt's National Centre for Radiation Research and Technology.

"Since doctors know that they are being audited by the Central Directorate of Radiology, they are more careful about the number and type of diagnostic imaging procedures they write for patients," says El Husseiny.

With the dramatic increase in the use of powerful machines that emit ionizing radiation to give us a detailed view of the body's internal structures and functions, patients have been exposed to more and more radiation in medicine.

"Scanning technology like computerised tomography (CT) and positron emission tomography (PET) have saved thousands of lives and provide doctors with invaluable information, but there is a flip side," says Madan Rehani, Director of Radiation Protection with the European Society of Radiology, and Secretary-General of the International Organisation for Medical Physics (IOMP).

"Some scans are unnecessary; sometimes the information doctors need has already been gathered from a previous scan, or can be obtained using another piece of technology; or at times machines are not calibrated to provide the lowest possible radiation dose to the patient while achieving good picture quality," says Rehani.

And so, four years ago the IAEA began encouraging its Member States to adopt lifetime radiation exposure and dose tracking systems for all patients.

According to Raija Seuri of the HUS Medical Center at the University of Helsinki, Finland's implementation of patient radiation exposure tracking has provided at least three distinct benefits:

  • Immediate access to patients' previous records has meant that patients have avoided being subjected to more and unnecessary CT scans;
  • By being able to view the radiation doses that patients received with each scan, hospitals have been able to change their imaging protocols to give patients less radiation dose; and
  • There has been a change in the mindset of referring physicians and radiographers. Medical practitioners now choose to refer patients for the scans that provide the lowest radiation dose.

These finding were discussed on 23-25 September 2013 at an IAEA-hosted Technical Meeting on Patient Radiation Exposure Tracking: Progress Assessment and Development of Further Actions.

Status Worldwide

Tracking mechanisms have been in place for some time in Estonia, Finland, Malta and Sweden; while countries like Algeria, Bulgaria, Egypt, Macedonia, The Netherlands, Romania, South Korea and Spain are making progress.

Last update: 27 July 2017