Every day in the United States, tens of thousands of patients are exposed to ionizing radiation through radiation therapy, CT scans, x rays, mammograms, and other medical imaging and therapeutic procedures.
Patients need to have confidence that the technologists caring for them have the credentials and qualifications to safely administer radiation, and that the equipment they are using is properly calibrated and maintained to deliver radiation safely and within the proper dose parameters.
These imaging procedures are key to making correct diagnoses of injuries and disease processes. Radiation therapy procedures are an important weapon in treating cancer. But, along with its life-saving capacity, ionizing radiation can cause harm to patients when used improperly. Too much radiation and the patient may suffer debilitating injury or death, as today's testimony before the U.S. House of Representatives' Energy and Commerce Committee's Subcommittee on Health has documented.
Responsibility for assuring balance between the amount of radiation used and the costs and benefits of its use lies with the physicians, the radiation oncologists, the equipment manufacturers, the radiation physicists, and the technologists who interact directly with the patients and who operate the equipment that delivers the radiation. Being fully qualified to perform their role in this team of professionals requires that the individuals have been appropriately educated in the fundamental concepts of radiation - including its biological effects - and how to achieve positive benefits and avoid or mitigate negative effects.
"For technologists, that means a formal educational program that covers both the underlying concepts of radiation physics and its application for medical uses," according to Michael DelVecchio, B.S., R.T.(ARRT), president of the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists. "This includes both classroom work and hands-on education in clinical settings."
Completion of the educational program is followed by application for certification by a national organization specializing in medical imaging and/or radiation therapy, according to DelVecchio. Certification organizations evaluate the applicant's education (including successful completion of specified clinical competencies), compliance with ethics standards related to patient care, and passing a comprehensive examination that covers both principles of radiation and application to imaging or therapy.
"Initial certification alone, however, is not sufficient for assuring ongoing qualifications," DelVecchio notes. Although the concepts of radiation learned in the educational program may remain relevant for decades, the technology of how it is used changes rapidly. "This means that technologists must continue to update their qualifications on an ongoing basis," he adds. Continuing education relevant to their practice is an essential requirement for technologists and is a requirement for maintaining the registration of certification.
"While no medical error is acceptable," DelVecchio asserts, "they do occur. They can result from lack of knowledge and education in some cases. But errors may also result from behavior that lacks the appropriate ethical grounding, which is also essential to assuring ongoing qualifications. Measured by an appropriate standard of ethics, individuals can demonstrate that they have internalized a set of guidelines that reflect the best interests of the patient."
Answering the question - Is the person exposing you to radiation qualified-- is a matter of both initial and ongoing evaluation and monitoring of qualifications. Certification programs such as those administered by the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists are important elements in providing the quality of care that all patients and their loved ones should expect.
The American Registry of Radiologic Technologists promotes high standards of patient care by recognizing individuals qualified in medical imaging, interventional procedures, and radiation therapy. Headquartered in St. Paul, Minn., ARRT evaluates, certifies, and annually registers more than a quarter-of-a-million radiologic technologists across the United States. For more information, visit www.arrt.org
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