The New York Times recently stepped into the world of medical imaging (again) to show what can go wrong when workers aren't trained properly. Although news of it only surfaced this month, a doctor at a NY hospital discovered four years ago that premature babies were being given full-body x-rays. In addition, radiation levels on CT scanners were set too high for infants and the babies weren't even positioned correctly to get the most information from the procedures.
Even though the staff was able to stop the problem from repeating, the incidents were never reported to state health officials (as required). Now that the story is out there, the state health commissioner is launching an investigation. Regardless of the outcome, the problem raises some serious questions of the increasingly complex imaging tools used in healthcare facilities. The primary one: how well trained are the technologists who operate radiological equipment?
It depends. What state do they live in? Fifteeen states don't regulate radiation therapists. Eleven states don't regulate imaging technologists. Eighteen states don't regulate medical physicists.
“There are individuals,” says Jerry Reid, MD, executive director of a group that certifies technologists, “who are performing medical imaging and radiation therapy who are not qualified. It is happening right now.”
The blame can be distributed all around. You could fault lazy or unqualified workers, legislators, hospitals—even manufacturers. For the latter, maybe it's another reminder that manufacturers should be asking themselves how they can make it easier for the people who operate their equipment. Imagine, for example, a machine that had a "newborn" setting for x-rays, sort of like how a microwave may have a "popcorn" button. Obviously it's not that simple. But what if it were? —Lawrence Lloyd