Doctors: Educate patients about imaging, radiation risks

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One would think that given the amount of publicity over the issue of computed tomography and radiation exposure that patients would have a general idea of what's in store for them if they're about to undergo a CT scan.

Apparently that's not the case.

A study recently published online in JAMA Internal Medicine suggests that patients really don't have a good understanding of radiation dose and the potential health risks associated with radiation. In fact, according to the researchers, one-third of the patients involved in the study didn't even know the imaging scan involved radiation.

Other results from the study illustrate how little patients know about medical radiation and diagnostic imaging.

For instance, just over half (51 percent) had heard nothing in the previous year about medical radiation in the media. Of those patients who did know that imaging involved radiation exposure, less than half (45 percent) were informed by the ordering health provider. And when asked to estimate how much radiation they were actually exposed to (compared to a year's worth of background radiation exposure), 85 percent underestimated the amount.

The conclusion, to me, seems pretty clear: Doctors need to do a better job of talking to patients about the risks and benefits of diagnostic imaging and radiation exposure. Despite all of the attention that's been paid to the issue over the last several years, physicians obviously can't assume that patients are educated on the subject.

The study also illustrates another challenge radiologists face.

As University of Virginia School of Medicine radiologist Bruce Hillman told FierceMedicalImaging last month, an "anti-imaging bias" has developed over the last several years that has hurt the specialty. One of the factors that has accounted for this situation has been the development of a "phobia" about imaging and radiation exposure.

A public that's largely ignorant about medical radiation can only exacerbate this situation, and radiologists ignore it at their peril. Instead, they should make efforts to better communicate with patients so that they fully understand the risks associated with radiation--and also understand that a procedure like a CT scan saves lives. - Mike  @FierceHealthIT