Patients Undergoing Scans Seldom Told of Full Radiation Risks

Another unsettling study indicates that people undergoing diagnostic scans involving radiation are not given information about the risks of the procedure. As reported by, less than half of those patients are aware of the scan’s potential health risks.

The study, published in the Journal of the American College of Radiology, found that 1 in 3 patients did not have a full understanding of testing procedures to which they were about to submit, and they were particularly unaware of the radiation risks.

The inappropriate or overuse of nuclear scans (those involving radioactive agents) and X-rays when diagnosing an injury or disease, over time, can cause cancer.

The researchers gave surveys to about 200 patients awaiting CT scans, ultrasounds and nuclear medicine examinations.

The survey questions concerned their knowledge of various aspects of the examination, the examination experience and their satisfaction and preferences about the doctor-patient communication throughout the process.

Nearly everyone correctly identified the type of examination they were having, and what body party was being imaged. Almost 8 in 10 said the doctor who prescribed the test explained it, but only about 7 in 10 indicated that they were satisfied with that explanation.

Only half of patients receiving intravenous contrast dye correctly indicated that they understood the procedure they were about to undergo, although 7 in 10 people receiving a contrast procedure by mouth demonstrated that they understood it.

About half of the survey respondents wanted to discuss the examination with a radiologist before the procedure, and about 2 in 10 said they had done Web searches for information about the exam instead of speaking with their doctor about it. Others indicated that they had consulted people they knew about the procedures.

The highest level of understanding about the tests was among patients undergoing CT scans; patients undergoing examinations involving nuclear medicine had the least understanding.

This study follows on the heels of one earlier this year published in the journal Radiology. It analyzed cancer patients, and also concluded that generally, they don’t receive enough information about the potential risks associated with CT scans and other exams involving radiation. It found that many doctors don’t even initiate a conversation with their patients about the risks of radiation from imaging tests.

Sometimes, the best imaging scan requires radiation. But no test, whether it’s a simple blood draw or a complicated intravenous procedure involving radioactive dye, should escape full communication between the doctor and the patient. It’s not the doctor, but the patient who should decide if the risk/reward tradeoff is worth it, and when radiation is part of that equation, there’s simply no excuse for practitioners not to fully air its potential, good or ill.

Patrick Malone & Associates, P.C. listed in Best Lawyers Rated by Super Lawyers Patrick A. Malone
Washingtonian Top Lawyer 2011
Avvo Rating 10.0 Superb Top Attorney Best Lawyers Firm
Contact Information