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Radiation fears

Joint Commission issues Sentinel Alert on diagnostic radiation

Topics: Safety, Quality, Performance Improvement, CT, Imaging, Service Lines, MRI

August 26, 2011

The Joint Commission this week issued a Sentinel Event Alert urging health organizations to implement strategies for reducing diagnostic radiation exposure.

The overall U.S. population's exposure to ionizing radiation—which can cause cancer, burns, and other injuries—has almost doubled over the past 20 years. According to one study, 72 million CT scans were performed in the United States in 2007, causing an estimated 29,000 future cancers and 14,500 future deaths from radiation.

Although the Joint Commission acknowledges the importance of diagnostic radiation as "an effective tool that can save lives," it says that "care should be taken to weigh the medical necessity of a given level of radiation exposure against the risks." According to the Commission, "steps should be taken to eliminate avoidable exposure to radiation." It suggests that all health care organizations:

  • Use ultrasound or MRI techniques instead of CTs;
  • Follow guidelines created by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the Society for Pediatric Radiology, the American College of Radiology, and the Radiological Society of North America;
  • Require radiologists to confirm that appropriate dosing protocols are implemented;
  • Expand the radiation safety officer's role to include safety and staff education of dosing and equipment usage; and
  • Establish central quality and safety performance monitoring for equipment (Joint Commission alert, 8/24; Joint Commission release, 8/23; Lee, Modern Healthcare, 8/24 [subscription required]).

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