Intermountain Healthcare, a nonprofit health system based in Salt Lake City Ut., has launched a program to accurately measure how much cumulative radiation patients receive over their lifetime while getting medical treatment.
Intermountain Healthcare hospitals and clinics are first in the country to compile the cumulative radiation patients receive from about 220,000 higher-dose procedures and imaging exams each year, starting with exams performed in the last quarter of 2012. That information is now readily available to both physicians and patients.
In recent years, new medical knowledge has raised concerns about the safety of radiation used in some medical diagnostic imaging tests. But until now, a program to accurately measure how much cumulative radiation patients receive over their lifetime while getting medical treatment has not been available.
Physicians and other medical personnel can review the cumulative radiation a patient has received through Intermountain's electronic medical record (EMR) system. Patients can view their own radiation history by signing up for Intermountain's free "My Health" program, which provides information through a secure password-protected portal on the internet. In addition to providing the cumulative radiation history, patients and physicians are also given access to educational materials on the risks and benefits of medical radiation.
"We are very excited to begin see the benefits of monitoring cumulative radiation," Donald Lappé, M.D., medical director of Intermountain's Cardiovascular Clinical Program, said in a statement. "With this information, clinicians and staff have reduced radiation, avoided unnecessary treatments, and found alternatives which do not involve x-rays."
While a patient's individual situation typically dictates the imaging procedure needed, knowing a patient's cumulative radiation exposure can help physicians and medical caregivers determine which type of imaging test is best. The benefits from a procedure usually outweigh the slightly increased cancer risk from exposure to radiation, but the potential risk of radiation should be considered before these imaging tests are performed. In some cases, equivalent information can be obtained with a medical test that does not use radiation, such as ultrasound or MRI scans.
"Having such information available is especially helpful for children with certain chronic health problems, as they may need to have many tests involving radiation during their lifetime," Keith White, M.D., medical director of Intermountain's imaging services, said in a statement. "The cancer risk from an imaging test is lower the older a person gets, and the highest risk is for children."