At Hearing on Radiation, Calls for Better Oversight

This post was authored by Rodd Santomauro and posted to The Eye Opener on March 1st, 2010.

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In an article posted by the New York Times, the dangers of radiation, specifically being over/errantly exposed in medical procedures, is graphically detailed.  The article also references an in-depth investigative report that the New York Times featured in January of this year. The tragic story of Scott Jerome-Parks, is described in both articles, with many of the sad details provided in the New York Times January investigation:

As Scott Jerome-Parks lay dying, he clung to this wish: that his fatal radiation overdose — which left him deaf, struggling to see, unable to swallow, burned, with his teeth falling out, with ulcers in his mouth and throat, nauseated, in severe pain and finally unable to breathe — be studied and talked about publicly so that others might not have to live his nightmare.
Sensing death was near, Mr. Jerome-Parks summoned his family for a final Christmas. His friends sent two buckets of sand from the beach where they had played as children so he could touch it, feel it and remember better days.

Mr. Jerome-Parks died several weeks later in 2007. He was 43.

A New York City hospital treating him for tongue cancer had failed to detect a computer error that directed a linear accelerator to blast his brain stem and neck with errant beams of radiation. Not once, but on three consecutive days.

The frequency and occurrence of radiation being utilized in medical procedures continues to be on the rise.  Many leaders from the healthcare industry agree that more needs to be done, in so far as making sure radiation continues to help, and not harm, patients.  The New York Times examined thousands of pages of records, and conducted numerous interviews with healthcare professionals.  Some of the results revealed the following:

The Times found that while this new technology allows doctors to more accurately attack tumors and reduce certain mistakes, its complexity has created new avenues for error — through software flaws, faulty programming, poor safety procedures or inadequate staffing and training. When those errors occur, they can be crippling.

“Linear accelerators and treatment planning are enormously more complex than 20 years ago,” said Dr. Howard I. Amols, chief of clinical physics at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York. But hospitals, he said, are often too trusting of the new computer systems and software, relying on them as if they had been tested over time, when in fact they have not.

Identifying radiation injuries can be difficult. Organ damage and radiation-induced cancer might not surface for years or decades, while underdosing is difficult to detect because there is no injury. For these reasons, radiation mishaps seldom result in lawsuits, a barometer of potential problems within an industry.

In 2009, the nation’s largest wound care company treated 3,000 radiation injuries, most of them serious enough to require treatment in hyperbaric oxygen chambers, which use pure, pressurized oxygen to promote healing, said Jeff Nelson, president and chief executive of the company, Diversified Clinical Services.

While the worst accidents can be devastating, most radiation therapy “is very good,” Dr. Mettler said. “And while there are accidents, you wouldn’t want to scare people to death where they don’t get needed radiation therapy.”

A good portion of the hearing last week dealt with CT Scans and the proper amount of radiation to which one should be exposed.  One of the concerning issues with CT Scans is the vast difference between exposure levels at different facilities.  Even within the same facility, doses can vary widely between patients.

CT Scans are only one example of the multitude of issues presented at the Congressional hearings last week.  The mandatory accreditation of radiologic units as well as the standardized reporting of medical errors were called for by some at the hearings.

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2 Responses to “At Hearing on Radiation, Calls for Better Oversight”

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