JACR: 24-hour radiation safety call center sees high demand

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A radiation safety call center staffed by nurses may serve as a valuable resource to a public concerned and uncertain about the risks of ionizing radiation and the benefits of imaging studies, according to an article published in the May issue of the Journal of the American College of Radiology.

As studies debate the risks of radiation from medical imaging, and media coverage fuels uncertainty among patients, physicians and staff from William Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, Mich., offered an initial assessment of a 24-hour national radiation call center introduced at their facility.

“The goal is to determine whether or not a study is justified. If a study is not clearly justified, we suggest that patients discuss the issue, including alternative imaging, with their physicians,” wrote Richard L. Barger Jr., MD, and Cheryl Culver-Schultz, MS, from William Beaumont Hospital’s department of radiology.

Launched on March 8, 2010, the call center is staffed 24 hours by hospital nurses who are guided by the American College of Radiology’s (ACR) Appropriateness Criteria and hospital policy.

Following a publicity campaign that included billboards, flyers mailed to physicians and electronic and public outreach, the call center took 299 calls in its first 115 days. This volume “was higher than expected,” the authors noted.

“This demonstrates the high demand for a radiation safety call center to address patients’ concerns regarding medical exposure to radiation.”

Calls came from across the country, varying from inquiries regarding CT (52 percent of calls) to questions concerning the radiation effects of microwaves. Sixteen percent of calls were related to nuclear medicine and 32 percent were for “pediatrics, mammography, MR and general issues.”

“Although fewer in terms of number of calls, the fact that we received calls about exposure to magnetic fields and ultrasound indicates that there is public concern about these entities as well,” Barger and Culver-Schultz noted.

The majority of calls were related to the appropriateness of exams ordered for callers and concerns about their resulting radiation risks. The most common specific clinical scenario was for concern regarding the dosage that resulted from prior CT studies for renal stones, the authors reported. Multiple callers also had questions concerning the radiation exposure caused by dental x-rays.

“The greatest concern in the implementation of the call center was whether nurses could be used to staff the call center. The fact that 81 percent of the calls were independently handled by our trained nursing staff members demonstrates their effectiveness in radiation safety knowledge,” Barger and Culver-Schultz argued. “[I]t is evident that these concerns are not as important as initially thought.”

“Our experience shows that there is high public concern regarding medical exposure to radiation, enough to warrant the permanent implementation of the call center,” Barger and Culver-Schultz concluded, while adding their intention to work for further media coverage and assessment of the call center to promote its reach and efficacy.