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Poor hospital procedures lead to excess radiation for babies

It is no secret that being exposed to radiation is not good for one's health. But many people are exposed to small amounts of radiation when they see a doctor and get an x-ray done. There are even greater amounts of radiation released when a patient undergoes a CT scan.

The New York Times had been doing a series of articles about radiation errors. These types of errors can lead to serious injury, especially in young children and infants. In fact, children are most at risk because they are still growing and are more vulnerable to the effects of radiation. But what The New York Times discovered about radiation was frightening.

At one particular hospital, the head of the radiology department one day discovered that infants were not being properly protected when undergoing radiological exams such as X-rays. Contrary to standards, full-body X-rays were being performed in babies, many without shields. This discovery was made in 2007.

Though the exact injuries that a baby would sustain from radiation were not discussed in the article, many of those injuries could be prevented if medical technicians and medical staff were properly using the equipment. An investigation following the incident showed:

  • Residents and supervisors failed to speak up about the mistakes that were discovered
  • Radiation levels were not set correctly before tests were administered
  • Technicians were getting sloppy and not appropriately targeting the area needing to be X-ray'd or shielding the rest of the baby's body

These types of mistakes are serious. Infants are especially at risk to the dangers of over-irradiation, especially when a full-body exam is administered. And given the fact that radiation is being used more often now to diagnose injuries and diseases, children will likely be exposed to high doses of radiation before they turn 18 years old.

In response, this particular hospital's radiology department is working with the Department of Health to make sure that staff is following protocol. In fact, many believe there is a need for minimum education and certification requirements for medical imaging and radiation therapy professionals.

Source: The New York Times online, "X-Rays and Unshielded Infants," Walt Bogdanich and Kristina Rebelo, 27 February 2011

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