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Could X-Ray Technician Certification Soon Be Required?

By Lisa Tortorello, Aug 31 '10

Imagine a bustling hospital Emergency Room filled with people covered in gowns and surgical masks. A 24-year-old patient was just rushed in via ambulance after being involved in a two-car collision. He is unconscious and there are no outward signs of trauma--he is not bleeding, there are no bruises or cuts. But this is only the outside. Inside, the patient has three broken ribs, a collapsed lung, a fractured collar-bone and a lacerated liver, but he cannot communicate his discomfort to alert the medical team. In this case, an x-ray could save his life.

In this situation, and countless others, an x-ray technician uses imaging technology to reveal what is happening beneath the patient's skin. These images are essential in effectively diagnosing and treating a variety of illnesses and injuries. A recent debate, fueled by the Consistency, Accuracy, Responsibility, and Excellence in Medical Imaging and Radiation Therapy Bill (CARE Bill) has focused on whether or not radiation therapy personnel should be required to meet certain education and certification standards in order to work with patients.

The initiative, which is supported by the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT), was introduced in the United States Senate by Senator Mike Enzi, R-Wyoming and Senator Tom Harkin, D-Iowa. The ARRT tests, certifies, and annually registers more than 250,000 radiologic technologists. The x-ray technicians who complete the required classroom and clinical education, pass an exam, and meet ethics requirements are awarded the Registered Technologist or RT designation. Certification by ARRT is voluntary, but many employers view the credential as an indication of the quality of the x-ray technician. After certification, individuals are asked to register annually to keep their certifications active. However, this is not a required practice.

Current Standards for X-Ray Techs

There are presently 213 programs at radiology technician schools that are accredited by the Joint Review Committee on Education in Radiologic Technology. The programs provide both classroom and clinical instruction. To graduate from radiology technician schools, students must satisfy several basic education requirements.

However, some states allow x-ray techs to perform radiologic procedures without any formal education. In fact, the District of Columbia and five other states have no regulations for those performing medical imaging tests. Many states that do have laws, base them on ARRT certification. And while federal laws regulate personnel, they often only accredit the health care facility rather than licensing the x-ray technician.

Why X-Ray Technicians Need Certification

What are the benefits of enacting legislation like the CARE Bill? Jim Temme, president of the American Society of Radiologic Technologists (ASRT), says enacting the legislation, "…is the best way to address concerns about health care quality, radiation safety and safe equipment operation…"

The ASRT believes certification also has its benefits. Being certified ensures patients that their medical needs are being handled by a capable x-ray technician, and employers can have increased confidence in the capabilities of their technicians.

The CARE Bill is currently with the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee--it has 117 bipartisan cosponsors.

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