Overuse of Radiation Harming Patients, Including Children

How much radiation have you gotten from X-rays and CT and nuclear scans? Is it a potential cause of cancer, and do doctors have legal responsibility to you for it? Eric Topol was the head of the renowned cardiology department of the Cleveland Clinic. Now, he is director of the Scripps Translational Science Institute. He is a very knowledgeable doctor who advocates for increased use of available digital technology in medicine, not only to give us better healthcare, but also to prevent us from being harmed by malpractice.

Topol says we are overusing radiation on people here in the U.S. and that the situation is far worse here than anywhere in the world. In his studied view, the runaway use of nuclear and CT scans and PET imaging is alarming. Patients aren't informed about how much radiation they are getting or that it can cause cancer in them down the road. Non-ionizing radiation, as in MRI and ultrasound, doesn't hurt us, but doctors continue to rely heavily on scans that have harmful ionizing radiation.

A unit of measurement of the amount of radiation is a millisievert. Topol says we should be told how many millisieverts we are getting with a scan. Few people know that a CT angiogram of the heart is 16 millisieverts, the equivalent of 800 chest x-rays, or that a typical nuclear scan used in cardiology gives 41 millisieverts, the equivalent of 2000 chest x-rays. A simple badge, like that worn by technicians in x-ray labs, could measure the amount of radiation delivered to us over time. They aren't used on us.

The medical profession hasn't been held accountable for this over-treatment, which data shows is causing an alarming 2-3% of the cancers in this country. He feels it represents a crisis, particularly in children. Dr. Topol frankly states that doctors are guilty of a serious breach of their responsibility to their patients. In plain words, that is medical malpractice.

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