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MRI Incidents On the Rise: What's the Radiologist's Role in X-Ray Tech Safety?

By Lisa Tortorello, Mar 08 '11

The role of the x-ray technician is multi-faceted. In addition to following physician orders to obtain images of body parts that help diagnose medical conditions, the technician is charged with ensuring patient, colleague, and visitor safety both in and out of the imaging suite. From protecting patients from unnecessary exposure to radiation, to correctly positioning them to avoid injury during the examination process, an x-ray tech is expected to be vigilant and proactive in his/her safety practices. But who protects the technician? According to a recent article in Radiological Society of North American (RSNA) News, radiologists should--at least in the magnetic resonance (MR) imaging suite.

The Increase in MRI Mishaps

X-ray technicians who specialize in MR imaging, also called MR technologists, operate sophisticated machinery that produces multiple cross-sectional images to create a 3-dimensional picture. MR imagining uses non-ionizing radio frequency to generate image contrast that can show the difference between healthy and unhealthy tissue.

A 2008 Federal Drug Administration (FDA) report shared information from its Manufacturer and User Facility Device Experience (MAUDE) database that indicated a 310 percent increase in MR imaging-relation incidents since 2004. Actual incidents are expected to be higher considering not all accidents are reported due to lack of federal regulations and protocols at the institution level.

The most common of these accidents include "projectile" injuries, in which ferromagnetic objects (items with magnetic properties) were pulled towards the MR imaging equipment at a high rate of speed, striking people and/or things in their path. In the health care setting, this often involves oxygen canisters, wheelchairs, or desk chairs.

"Not only is the patient at risk, but so is anyone who happens to be in the same room," said Tobias Gilk, an architect with the firm RADIOLOGY-Planning, president and MRI Safety Director for Mednovus, Inc., and a former member of the American College of Radiology's (ACR) MRI Safety Committees. "There is an alarming number of injuries to MR technologists and service personnel."

The Radiologist's Role in X-Ray Technician Safety

Even if a radiologist is not on the premises when an accident occurs in the MR imaging suite, they are responsible for the incident. "Sometimes radiologists are alarmed to learn that whoever signs the report is considered the supervising physician, and even if he or she is not physically present, legally it's a very clean line," Gilk said. "Radiologists need to be more directly involved with not only creating safety protocol but also with making sure guidelines are properly implemented, because ultimately, the responsibility rests with them."

Radiologists can take an active role in making the MR imaging environment safer by installing metal detectors, training x-ray techs and other staff regarding safe MR imaging practices, or even suggesting physical changes be made to the MR space. Gilk added, "By protecting their patients, technologists and allied personal, radiologists are ultimately protecting themselves."

How Can X-ray Technicians Keep Themselves Safe?

An estimated 30 million MR imaging studies are performed every year in the United States. While some responsibility does rest in the hands of radiologists, x-ray technicians can also take measures to keep themselves safe.

  • Ensure patients remove all potentially magnetic items before entering the MR room. This may include jewelry, clothing with metal zippers or buttons, cell phones, credit cards, purses and wallets.
  • Discuss concerns or questions, regarding the MR procedures where you work, openly with radiologists and colleagues.

Finally, educate others who may have to work in or near the MR suite about safety precautions that need to be taken to ensure your safety and that of your patients and colleagues.

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