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NIH policy urges CT makers to track radiation dose

By Julie Steenhuysen

CHICAGO (Reuters) - The National Institutes of Health plans to require that all makers of CT and other radiation-producing scanners used at NIH clinics have software that tracks a patient's radiation dose and logs it into an electronic medical record.

The new policy arises from patient concerns about studies suggesting that repeated exposure to radiation from diagnostic tests may raise their risk of cancer, said Dr. David Bluemke, director of radiology and imaging sciences at the NIH Clinical Center. The policy was announced on Monday in the Journal of the American College of Radiology.

A CT scan, also known as computed tomography, gives doctors a view inside the body, often eliminating the need for exploratory surgery. But CT scans involve a much higher radiation dose than conventional X-rays. A chest CT scan exposes the patient to more than 100 times the radiation dose of a typical chest X-ray.

CT scan use in the United States has grown sharply. About 70 million CT scans were done on Americans in 2007, up from 3 million in 1980.

"What we've realized for a long time is there is no ability currently to understand at any given moment how many radiation-producing exams a patient has had," Bluemke said in a telephone interview.

The policy will only affect makers of scanners such as General Electric's GE Healthcare, Siemens, Philips and Toshiba Medical Systems or others that provide equipment to the NIH.

"The first contracts we've had are with Siemens Medical. They are very happy to comply. They've started a demonstration project on this already," Bluemke said.

ELECTRONIC RECORD

He said the hope is that once the companies make their equipment capable of collecting information on a patient's radiation dose in an electronic medical record for the NIH, they will make it widely available to hospitals as well.

Initially, he said, companies will need to make information on radiation doses accessible for use with an electronic medical record, such as Google's Google Health or Microsoft's HealthVault.

Ultimately, Bluemke said, the goal would be to make the information available on a national electronic medical record, a major focus for President Barack Obama.

GE Healthcare said in a statement the company supports the NIH's efforts and that the company's newest CT scanners offer the ability to capture and store dose-related information.

"The next step is for cross-industry coordination among all stakeholders involved in a patient's care so that standardized dose-related information can be captured and recorded in as convenient and usable format as possible," the company said in a statement.

The policy change follows several recent studies, including one in December, that suggested use of CT scanners may account for about 1.5 to 2 percent of all cancers in the United States.

Bluemke said such studies are based on the rates of cancer that occurred in people exposed to radiation from the atomic bombs dropped on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World War Two. But many experts disagree on whether that model offers a fair comparison.

"All of those are completely hypothetical," he said.

"Some people will argue there is zero risk. Some say the risk is rather immense.

(Editing by Mohammad Zargham)

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