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An x-ray technician may help promote safety

By Lisa Tortorello, Jun 16 '11

The purpose of medical tests and procedures is to help physicians diagnose health issues so they can be addressed and patients can, hopefully, feel better. What happens when the tests that are supposed to help people get well actually result in harm? According to a December 2010 press release from the American Society of Radiologic Technologists, this may be an issue for x-ray technicians. As reported by the ECRI, an independent nonprofit organization that focuses on ways to improve patient care, radiation therapy overdoses top the list for health technology hazards to look for in 2001. High radiation doses from CT scans came in at number four.

"Our list presents the potential sources of danger that we believe warrant the greatest attention to increase awareness and prevent risks," reads the ECRI press release.

For an x-ray technician, safety is a top priority, especially when it comes to radiation therapy that is continually evolving and becoming more intricate. Treatment plans are becoming more complex, leaving a very narrow margin for error; thus, even a small setup error may have serious effects.

As the field of radiology continues to grow, and the need for x-ray technicians increases (the Bureau of Labor Statistics expects a jump in the number of x-ray technicians by about 17 percent from 2008 to 2018), how can patients and technicians be confident about dosing procedures?

X-ray tech tips: ECRI radiation safety procedures

The ASRT suggests following these ECRI recommendations that may improve the safety of radiation therapy procedures:

    1. Ensuring all clinical and technical staff members are qualified by education, licensing, registration and certification. According to the BLS, it is up to each state to require x-ray technician licensure. Certification is voluntary and is offered by the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists, or ARRT.
    2. Making sure all equipment is correctly installed and maintained. This responsibility typically falls under the job description of the x-ray technician. The ECRI also recommends that standard patient treatment procedures are documented and followed, another task that typically falls to the x-ray technician.
    3. Encouraging staff to be alert to inconsistencies or problems and raise concerns before delivering therapy.
    4. Being sure a process for reporting problems exists.
    5. Implementing corrective actions as needed.

      Additional x-ray technician safety steps: beyond radiation therapy

      Many radiological procedures, including radiation therapy, pose the potential for radiation exposure if the proper precautions are not taken. This risk is a hazard to the patient, but also to the x-ray tech as well. Whether an outpatient care center, private physician office, or hospital, the vast majority of facilities that administer such tests have established universal safety protocols to protect the patient and visitors, but also the x-ray technician as well. This may include providing the x-ray technician with instruments to measure their radiation exposure, protecting exposed areas with radiation protection devices such as a lead shield or room partitions, and limiting the size of the x-ray beam.

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