It's important to us to keep you informed about changes in medical physics regulations -- and it's also our pleasure to keep you informed as part of our commitment to customer service.
Read our blog often for the latest updates and expert medical physics advice from our skilled team.
Communicating Radiation Risk to Patients
Posted on Thursday, April 18th, 2013, under Radiation Safety
By Greg Sackett, M.S., CHP
Responding to patient concerns and questions about radiation risk can be one of the most challenging duties facing technologists and physicians. Patients often arrive with preconceived notions of risk based on misinformation they have seen in the media or read on the internet. They may be scared or even hostile towards the caregiver attempting to complete a prescribed procedure.
When discussing risk, perception equals reality, regardless of scientific or technical evidence to the contrary. Therefore it is necessary to discuss risk within the patient’s perception of the hazard. The keys to remember when discussing risk with the patient are:
- Tell the truth.
- Use positive or neutral terms and no jargon.
- Use examples to help the patient understand.
- Don’t speculate, discuss only the procedure being performed.
- Do not attack the patient’s beliefs or a source of misinformation.
- Ask if you are being understood.
Ensure the patient that the procedure will be performed using good radiation safety practices that are designed to keep the doses as low as possible while still generating the diagnostic results required. Be careful generalizing risks, as future cancer risk is highly age dependent. Many radiation induced cancers have latency periods of 10 to 20 years. While individuals over 60 have minimal cancer risks from radiation exposure, children have a lifetime risk of 10-15% simply due to the length of time available for cancer to appear.
One aspect often overlooked when discussing radiation risks is the BENEFIT to the patient of the procedure being performed. The risks of NOT performing an exam include missing a diagnosis and/or initiating treatment too late to improve the medical outcome. This risk must be considered in conjunction with the latency period for radiation-induced cancer and the age of the patient. The use of radiation in healthcare saves thousands of actual lives every year, while the entirely theoretical risks predicted by risk models are orders of magnitude smaller. Ensure that the patient understands why the procedure is being performed and the benefit to their immediate health.
If the patient has questions that you cannot answer, they may be referred to the Radiologist or Radiation Safety Officer of your institution. You may also refer them to trusted websites like RadiologyInfo.org that are designed to answer patient questions about Radiology and Radiation Safety.