Data driven CT scans

Nowhere are good nudges more needed than in medicine. Reader Chris Crittenden digs up a great one about CT scans, the x-rays that give doctors a nice three-dimensional picture of a patients’ organs or tissues. The risk with CT scans – also known as CAT scans – comes from the radiation doses they emit into patients’ bodies. Health experts warn that the repeated use of scans, which are intended to detect diseases, will actually end up causing thousands of new cancers. Until lower radiation emitting machines are developed, doctors will need to order them intelligently.

Dr. James Thrall, chairman of the American College of Radiology, agrees. He says at his institution, the Massachusetts General Hospital, doctors who order a CT scan or other imaging study must list the reason. A computer program feeds back an ”appropriateness score.” A low score indicates the test is unlikely to be necessary.

”Our experience over the last five years has been rather phenomenal,” Thrall says. Instead of an annual growth rate of 12 percent in CT scans, it’s now about 1 percent, lower than the hospital’s annual growth in patient load. ”That means we’re doing fewer scans per person,” he says.

To cut down on unnecessarily high radiation doses, Thrall says, the College of Radiology is also developing an ”alarm” system that will alert hospitals when their CT scan exceeds an acceptable dose. That will require hospitals to feed dose data to a central computer run by the radiology group.

Full story is here.

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