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Preventing Radiation Exposure, Keeping Patients Safe

By Lisa Tortorello, Nov 08 '10

http://www.asrt.org/

Once a patient enters an x-ray suite, the x-ray technician is charged with the tasks of positioning the patient, explaining the procedure, and maneuvering equipment to the correct angle and height to ensure a clear image is taken. The technician is also responsible for protecting the patient from unnecessary radiation exposure during the procedure--something that is imperative in maintaining a safe experience for the patient and technician.

The California legislature recently approved a bill in response to reports that hundreds of patients at various California medical facilities were exposed to computed tomography (CT) radiation doses eight times higher than the recommended level during an 18-month period between 2008 and 2009. The bill is designed to protect patients from medical imaging radiation overdoses in the future, and requires that radiation levels from CT scans be reported on the actual image, in the patient's health record, to the patient and his or her doctor, as well as to the California Department of Health. The bill will take effect on July 1, 2012, pending approval by the Governor.

Christine Lung, vice-president of government relations and public policy for the American Society of Radiologic Technicians (ASRT), has spoken out in support of the bill. She said that California radiologic technicians "will be responsible for making sure that facilities and physicians are aware and comply with the appropriate dose levels." But what steps are x-ray techs across the country currently taking to protect not only patients, but themselves?

The X-Ray Technician: Putting Patient Safety First

There are five major types of imaging techniques, each requiring its own safety precautions. They are:

  • X-ray or radiography
  • Computed tomography (CT)
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
  • Ultrasound or sonography
  • Nuclear medicine

When a small amount of radiation passes through the body and is recorded on film, video, or a computer, an x-ray image is produced. Whether instruction is received at radiology technician schools or on the job, an x-ray technician is taught to use the lowest levels of radiation possible to achieve a satisfactory image during a diagnostic procedure. In order to protect parts of the patient's body that are not being photographed, the x-ray technician will very often use a shield made of lead strips or materials saturated with lead as these block x-rays.

Trained x-ray techs also take extra care when photographing in proximity to the thyroid gland and the male or female reproductive organs, as these can be more sensitive to radiation exposure than other parts of the body. In addition, the ray technician maintains the safety of the patients in the waiting room by alerting them to the use of radiation in the imaging suite through the use of warning lights or sounds.

Protecting the X-Ray Tech

While patient safety is of the utmost importance, an x-ray technician must also protect him/herself from unnecessary radiation exposure. This is accomplished utilizing a shielded control booth or moving behind a protective barrier while an x-ray is being taken. When the x-ray technician must stay with the patient during exposure, he/she must wear a lead apron.

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