September 18, 2018

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Reducing Your Exposure to Radiation

Radiation SafetySixteen slices, sixty-four slices, what does all of that mean and does it increase the amount of radiation I am exposed to during a CT scan?  That’s a question I hear all of the time when it comes to the different types of CT scanners that are available at different medical facilities and what is available within our ACMC network.

16 and 64-Slice Scanners

CT scanners take three dimensional pictures of the body by rotating an x-ray tube around your body.  The difference between a 16-slice and a 64-slice scanner is mostly about speed.  When a 16-slice scanner travels around your body it is taking a picture, 16 times per rotation.  When a 64-slice scanner travels around it is taking 64 sets of images in one rotation.  So really, the 16 slice scanner needs to rotate around your body 4 times to gather the exact same information.  There is no difference in the quality of images taken from one scanner to the other.  Also, having a 16 slice scan over a 64 slice scan does not change the amount of radiation delivered during the scan. Simply put, a faster scan has nothing to do with radiation exposure.

“Simply put, a faster scan has nothing to do with radiation exposure,” states Kari Westby, ACMC Radiation Safety & QA Manager.

Procedures Determine Need

So as a patient when would you want to make sure that you had access to a 64 slice scanner? You would want to make sure you had access if you needed a CT scan of your heart.  Your heart beats fast and is in constant motion and the speed of the 64-slice scanner allows us to gather lots of information while the heart is beating to help diagnose the patient’s medical condition.

We have 2 different CT scanners within our ACMC system; in Willmar we have a 64-slice and in Marshall we have a 16-slice.  A 64-slice scanner will produce a higher radiation dose, but only if not programmed correctly.  The amount of radiation used is really determined by the type of test that is needed and then dosage is set accordingly.  What that means to the patient is that if they are having a normal CT scan of the brain, we will use the same amount of radiation on either scanner and the images that are sent back to the radiologist and the physician are the same.  So for any normal scan that does not involve the heart, both machines give the same result.

Access for Special Services

So why doesn’t ACMC have a 64-slice CT scanner in Marshall and only has one in Willmar? The answer is simple, it comes down to cost.  A 64-slice scanner costs much more than a 16 slice scanner and the need for that technology just isn’t there.  If a patient is in need of a CT scan of their heart, they have most likely been referred on to a cardiologist.  If a CT of the heart is needed, we want to make sure we have access to special services that might be needed should something go wrong during testing.  We perform about 5-10 heart scans per month and so we make sure those scans are done in a single location.  This lets us ensure the staff performing your exam is specifically trained for this type of exam and that they have the experience to achieve the highest level of quality.

Awareness Raised in California

A few years ago, there was a big scare in California regarding CT scanners and high doses of radiation.  The findings in California were that the machines were not set to the proper level of radiation and the result was that patients were experiencing negative side affects such as hair loss, nausea, etc.  Because of this, there was an increased awareness across the country about safe levels of radiation during CT scans.

Minnesota Regulations

CT scanners in Minnesota are strictly regulated by the Minnesota Department of Health.  The Department of Health monitors ACMC on a regular basis to make sure that we are scanning within safe radiation dose range and that our medical equipment is checked on a regular basis by a medical physicist.

What ACMC is doing

ACMC is going beyond Minnesota Regulations to ensure that a safe dose of radiation is given for each scan. We have pledged to participate in the nation wide “Image Wisely” campaign.  By participating, we will be able to maintain our radiation exposures to levels that are below recommended limits as well as receive frequent education on what we can do to proactively change those amounts to ensure patient safety.  In addition, our board-certified radiologists review each scan before it is performed to make sure each patient gets the correct exam tailored to their specific situation improving quality and reducing radiation.

What Can Our Patients Do?

Kari Westby

Kari Westby

We do like to stress to our patients that it is important to keep a log of your recent scans.  Now when I say recent, I mean within the last couple months.  The reason for this is to reduce the amount of radiation exposure and to help determine if a scan is necessary.  For example, a provider in our clinic you may be seeing for a problem may need to decide whether to perform a scan.  If you had a scan of this area in the recent past, they may be able to gather the information to make a diagnosis without repeating the exam.  ACMC works with six local hospitals in our service area and we have the technology in place to give the physicians at the hospital instant access to scans performed at our clinics.  Scans do not have to be repeated and patients do not need to be exposed to additional radiation.

ACMC is currently pursuing accreditation by the American College of Radiology and we are “re-writing the book” so to speak to make sure that we meet the proper safety measures to protect our patients.  The ACR holds facilities to very high standards and requires the staff to maintain certifications and do regular continuing education focused on CT and radiation safety.

At ACMC our goal is to put your safety first!