Are physicians unaware about the effects, risk of radiation exposure?

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Those involved in radiology know the risks associated with medical imaging—but other physicians may not be so tuned in. A recent study published in JACR shows that physicians across multiple disciplines and levels of training know far less about the exposure and risk of radiation than patients deserve.  

Over the course of two years, a group of researchers from the University of Colorado Denver found that 26 percent of surveyed healthcare providers across multiple areas and levels of expertise had relatively low knowledge about radiation imaging modalities and exposure.  

"It is vital that heath care providers who supervise, perform, or request radiologic examinations have knowledge about radiation exposure and risk and be able to discuss the risks and benefits with their patients; nearly every health care provider currently utilizes medical imaging in his or her practice, a basic understanding of radiation safety is necessary for all providers," said lead author of the study and resident radiologist at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus Jason Hobbs, MD.  

From 2014 to 2016, 229 healthcare providers from multiple departments at one large educational institution participated in the study, which included a 15-minute educational presentation and two multiple choice questionnaires required to be completed before and after the presentation to assess participants knowledge of radiation exposure and risk.  

Topics covered in the multiple choice questionnaire focused on adult care, including:  

  • Risks of ionizing radiation.
  • Relative radiation exposure of different imaging exams. 
  • Risk of radiation exposure in patients of different ages.
  • Perceived risk for cancer death due to radiation exposure.  
  • Practicality for incorporating radiation exposure and risk information into clinical practice.

Participants anonymously included faculty members, fellows, residents, radiology professionals and primary care physicians from multiple departments such as emergency and family medicine, obstetrics, gynecology and internal medicine. Approximately 61 percent of participants were residents and 33 percent were physicians, according to the study. All 229 participants took the same questionnaire before and after the brief presentation.  

As they originally hypothesized, researchers found that radiologists had a higher pretest score than other participants and significantly increased after the educational presentation. However, post-test scores were similar across specialties, ranging from 79 percent to 92 percent correct.  

"Our findings are consistent with other studies that have found low provider knowledge of radiation exposure and risk and found that even modest educational interventions provide significant changes in both knowledge and provider ordering practice," Hobbs concluded. "Providers appear to be more likely to change their ordering habits on the basis of radiation exposure and risk information than on guideline recommendations or procedure cost."