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Radiation Safety a Priority at SCKMC

February 4, 2014

For over a century medical radiation has been used around the world to diagnose and treat a wide variety of ailments. Today, medical radiation is used within hospitals and clinics for x-ray, CT, fluoroscopy, nuclear medicine, bone density, mammography and more. While the benefits of these machines have been proven to outweigh the risks, radiation exposure can be dangerous if the proper safety protocols are not in place.

Arkansas City, KS - For over a century medical radiation has been used around the world to diagnose and treat a wide variety of ailments. Today, medical radiation is used within hospitals and clinics for x-ray, CT, fluoroscopy, nuclear medicine, bone density, mammography and more. While the benefits of these machines have been proven to outweigh the risks, radiation exposure can be dangerous if the proper safety protocols are not in place.

To reduce these risks for both patients and the radiology technicians, the staff at South Central Kansas Medical Center in Ark City adhere to strict safety guidelines and have implemented numerous dose-management techniques for maintaining the approved radiation exposure levels.

Nicole Morris, the medical center's lead radiology technician, breaks down the safety precautions into three simple categories.

"There's shielding, there's time, and there's distance. That's what we do for our ARRT (The American Registry of Radiologic Technologists) standards. Reducing how many exposures we do as techs or give the patient; shielding, like lead aprons for our patients and for ourselves; and distance, the more you step back away from the equipment, the less radiation you receive," Morris said.

Radiation exposure is not rare and is not limited simply to medical testing. According to the ARRT, the average person in the U.S. receives about 3 millisievert of radiation per year from natural sources, such as cosmic radiation or radioactive materials found naturally in the soil. The radiation exposure from one chest x-ray is about the same as the amount of radiation exposure received from our natural surroundings over the course of 10 days.

"There is radiation you get exposed to in radiology imaging, but then there is outside radiation like the sun or standing next to a brick wall. There is no way to track the patient's total exposure during their lifetime," Morris said.

The radiation a person is exposed to, regardless if it is natural or medical, is absorbed into the body. In high doses, living tissue can be injured. It is widely accepted in the medical community to assume that any amount of radiation can cause injury, and the risk increases as the amount of radiation absorbed goes up.

"As far as safety, we are trying to reduce unneeded exams. We alert the doctors if the patient has had studies recently that will show what the doctors need to see. If a patient has been having a lot of CTs sometimes we look to see if maybe a nuc med scan is necessary, or vice-versa," said Katrina Uecker, Registered Nuclear Medicine Technologist at SCKMC.

Advances in science and technology have reduced the amounts of absorption associated with radiology examinations by estimating the risk and comparing the dose from imaging procedures to other sources of exposure, such as natural background radiation. Because different tissues and organs have varying sensitivity to radiation exposure, the actual radiation risk from a procedure varies for different parts of the body. The term "effective dose" describes the proper amount of radiation calculated for the various exams and locations within the body. Information published by the ARRT explains why an effective dose is so important for patient safety.

"Overuse of radiation should be avoided, and your physician should prescribe only what is medically necessary to help make healthcare decisions, measure your treatment progress, or deliver therapeutic doses," stated within the ARRT website. "It is just as bad not to use enough radiation as to use too much. If too little is used, the examination might have to be repeated to get it right, or the physician might miss a diagnosis. The job of the radiologic technologist is to use the correct amount every time."

At SCKMC the advanced equipment takes the guess work out of finding the "effective dose" for a CT scan.

"We have a dose saving machine. The machine compensates for an area that maybe is thicker, chest area or pelvic area, which can be considerably less thick in some patients. Everyone has a different body type so it cuts down on radiation, and limits our scans to do just what is necessary for the test," Morris said.

While technology continues to make testing safer, Morris believes that knowledge is the best way to protect their patients.

"We educate every single patient, especially with what they need to do post-exam. We're always aware and we're always conscious of all the risk factors. We make our patients aware of what the risk factors are and what the precautions are posttest or pretest," Morris said.

The ARRT recommends asking the following questions of your physician or the radiology technologist before your next exam:
• Simple and clear conversations with your caregivers can help you understand why you may need an exam and which ones are best for your healthcare.
• Talk with your healthcare provider and your radiologist about the benefits of the suggested exam.
• Be sure to ask what you and your medical team expect to learn from your examination.
• Will decisions about your healthcare depend on the imaging study? If the results will not impact your future course of medical care or measure your progress from treatment, the examination is not necessary.
• Ask if the x-ray, CT scan, or nuclear imaging is the best study, or would other non-radiation producing studies like ultrasound, magnetic resonance, or medical laboratory tests do as well?
• Most of all make sure that the people involved in the examination are properly trained and credentialed. It is these professionals who will make sure that the equipment is working properly and is used properly.

Pictured: Nicole Morris, the medical center's lead radiology technician demonstrates some of the features of South Central Kansas Medical Center's 64-slice CT machine.

Pictured: Nicole Morris, the medical center's lead radiology technician demonstrates some of the features of South Central Kansas Medical Center's 64-slice CT machine.