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Patients in Focus: The IAEA’s First Training in Safety Culture in Medicine

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25 participants discussed the training material including digital presentations and facilitated discussions to strengthen safety culture in medicine. (Photo: C. Villarreal Silva/IAEA)

As long as humans are involved, errors harming patients during medical radiation procedures such as X-Ray or radiotherapy could happen. So how can the IAEA help?

A new IAEA training offers medical professionals to strengthen patterns of good behaviour and attitudes. The right mindset and strong safety culture in medical institutions can reduce overall dose to staff and unnecessary and unintended dose to patients. The new training material will be officially launched in May 2020.

At a meeting on this topic, 25 participants discussed and reviewed the future training material, and also addressed traits and related scenarios structured around safety culture. These include personal accountability, effective communication, strong leadership, comprehensive decision-making and effective work processes in place, respectful work environment enabling staff raise concerns, identify problems, ask questions, and continuously learn.

The training material will be accompanied by interactive digital presentations produced by medical facilities, and winners of the recent IAEA competition. “This is a new and innovative way on how to engage our stakeholders directly from medical facilities,” said Juan Carlos Lentijo, IAEA Deputy Director General and Head of the Department of Nuclear Safety and Security.

“All presentations provide excellent examples of improvements made in radiation safety culture worldwide,” he added before he awarded top three winners from Greece, the United States, and New Zealand.

Juan Carlos Lentijo, IAEA Deputy Director General and Head of the Department of Nuclear Safety and Security with the winners - Anastasia Sarchosoglou from Greece, Leah Kayomi Schubert from the United States, and Darin Steven O’Keeffe from New Zealand. (Photo: C. Villarreal Silva/IAEA)

These efforts follow the International Bonn Call for Action, a common IAEA-World Health Organization plan in radiation protection in medicine, which also calls for strengthening radiation safety culture in healthcare.

“Radiation safety does not always receive the attention it deserves. Together, we need to build a strong culture with qualified staff who place patients first,” said Stewart Whitley, Director of Professional Practice at International Society of Radiographers and Radiological Technologists (ISRRT), one of the six professional societies present at the meeting.

Safety Culture in Medicine

The concept of safety culture is well-known in nuclear installations, less so in healthcare. With every new patient, staff, or equipment acquisition, there are new safety challenges. Meeting participants discussed incidents reported in SAFRON, the IAEA system of radiotherapy incidents, which includes for example information on patients receiving incorrect radiation dose treatment or getting such treatment in the wrong body area. 

 “The main difference here is that patients and their families are in the centre and we need to acknowledge that,” said Debbie Gilley, an IAEA Radiation Protection Specialist.

The meeting was held at the IAEA headquarters in Vienna, Austria from 18 to 20 February.

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