Monmouth Medical Center has a full-time radiation safety officer dedicated to making sure diagnostic procedures involving radiation are performed under conditions of optimal safety.
Radiation is one of modern medicine's wonders. Used as a diagnostic tool to identify or assess illness or as a therapy to destroy malignant cells, it helps save lives. But like most medical treatments, radiation has its dangers. If it isn’t applied correctly, it can be harmful or even fatal, as a few deeply troubling media accounts in recent years have shown.
Fortunately, Monmouth Medical Center has a full-time radiation safety officer dedicated to making sure diagnostic procedures involving radiation are performed under conditions of optimal safety. He is Thomas Piccoli, chief imaging physicist.
The use of radiation is growing. The average lifetime dose of diagnostic radiation that Americans receive has increased sevenfold since 1980, the New York Times has reported. In the face of this trend, Piccoli says his job brings two mandates: “One, don’t discourage the use of radiation if the benefit outweighs risk. And two, make sure the public and the physicians who order scans are knowledgeable about those benefits and risks.”
He worries that patients with an understandable concern about radiation’s possible misuse may decline procedures that are safe and would be helpful in their care. And he knows it can be a challenge to keep abreast of the rapidly changing technologies in radiology. “It’s everyone’s responsibility to understand the alternatives so that diagnostic procedures can be ordered that cause the least radiation exposure with the highest image quality,” says Piccoli. For example, the information provided by a computed tomography (CT) scan of the lungs sometimes can be obtained just as well with a ventilation/perfusion lung scan—often called a “V/Q” scan—which creates an image of the circulation of both air and blood within a patient’s lungs with about one-fifth as much radiation.
To educate both patients and doctors, Piccoli is creating informational brochures on radiology procedures and distributing them to physician offices throughout the region. He’s also posting helpful information on the medical center’s website.
“Our goal in the Radiology Department is to acquire the best image quality with the smallest radiation dose,” Piccoli says. “Our full accreditation and 10 years of perfect state inspections suggest that we’re achieving that goal.”
How to get the safest scans
Four quick questions can help you make sure you're getting the safest possible diagnostic radiology procedure, says Thomas Piccoli, Monmouth Medical Center's chief imaging physicist and radiation safety officer:
ASK A DOCTOR WHO PRESCRIBES A SCAN:
"Could a lower-dosage technology provide the same information as the imaging you suggest?" (If the physician isn't sure, ask him or her to consult a radiologist.)
ASK YOUR IMAGING FACILITY:
"Is your equipment accredited through the American College of Radiology?" ("I wouldn't want any procedure done on equipment that isn't accredited," says Piccoli. You can also find a list of accredited facilities at the ACR website, www.acr.org)
"Is there a medical physicist on site or consulting?" ("If not, the machines may not have been checked for proper calibrations," says Piccoli.)
"When did the state last inspect the facility?" ("Anything over a year is too long," says the physicist.)
To schedule an imaging exam at Monmouth Medical Center, please call 732-923-6800. To obtain more information, visit www.mmcradiology.com.