Patient Education on CT Scan Risks Lacking

HealthLeaders Media Staff , January 3, 2011

In fact, 75 percent of the patients underestimated the amount of radiation delivered by a CT scan, and only 3 percent understood CT scans increased a person’s lifetime risk of cancer.

A recent FDA initiative aimed at reducing unnecessary radiation exposure from medical imaging primarily focused on physician practices and providing patients with a record of their imaging history. It’s commendable, Baumann says, but it fails to address patient expectations. “We need to do a better job of educating our patients about the risks associated with CT scans.”

There are many opportunities to do just that, Baumann tells HealthLeaders Media. “Each time an imaging study is ordered, the risks should be mentioned, whether the discussion takes place in the ED or the primary care doctor's office.”

The point isn’t to dissuade patients, but to inform them. “In some situations, the need for CT outweighs the risks and in these cases, the discussion will be brief,” she says. An older patient with poorly controlled blood pressure and a tearing pain in his abdomen and back needs an emergent CT to assess for an aortic dissection, a life-threatening condition, she explains.

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