Young radiologists must step up to climate change: 7 things to know

The pandemic has forced radiology departments to embrace many new practices, including remote reporting, services directed toward COVID-care, and redeployment of staff. But there’s a new problem on the horizon young rads will need to address: climate change.

“The ability of healthcare and radiology to adapt, as it has over the past year, must be harnessed for the next challenge to world health—the climate crisis,” Bryan W. Buckley and Peter J. MacMahon, both with Mater Misericordiae University Hospital’s Department of Radiology in Dublin argued Tuesday. “As radiology trainees, we must lead in pressing the issue.”

Buckley, a third-year resident at the Irish hospital, and MacMahon laid out the problem at hand along with potential solutions July 13 in a Radiology editorial. Below are key takeaways.

1) Radiology departments’ imaging equipment is energy-intensive. For example, an MRI scanner requires enough power to cool a three-bedroom house with central air for a day, and 32 reporting stations consume the equivalent of 12 Swiss households. Ultrasound, meanwhile, uses one-twentieth the energy of CT and MRI.

2) Imaging studies must be clinically justified, the authors noted. But such decisions should also be performed efficiently, and their ecologic impact should factor in.

3) Radiology data is growing rapidly, and storing this information is costly. More than 28.5 million individual studies are housed across Ireland’s national integrated imaging system, amounting to 1 petabyte and growing. More than half that total is CT-related. As exams grow more complex, sending and storing studies will require more energy.

4) But it’s not just image storing that’s energy inefficient. Servers and cooling systems account for nearly 86% of energy use. With artificial intelligence interest growing, computational efforts, data sets and hardware will all demand added energy.

5) There is good news: radiology’s tech-heavy foundation “uniquely” positions the specialty to adopt sustainable practices. This shift starts at the local level, the pair argued, with trainees advocating and educating others.

6) The “as low as reasonably achievable” principle mandates providers expose patients to as little radiation as possible. This can be applied to the environment as well. A situation that can use ultrasound to track an ovarian cyst rather than MRI optimizes both ecologic and economic impact without harming patients, the authors explained.

7) Finally, radiologists need to limit the excess data that are routinely created and stored indefinitely. Abbreviated MRI protocols are generating interest and are economically and ecologically sound, the authors wrote. Storing multiple reconstructions and iterations of raw CT data, meanwhile, are “unlikely” to be needed and don’t need to be saved forever.

Read the full perspective here.

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