Monday Medical: YVMC pays attention to safety in radiation


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For more information about radiation exposure and safeguards being used by medical providers, visit www.imagegently.o...

When a child's safety is on the line, parents look for an exact fit. That is why bike and ski helmets, life vests and car seats come in an array of sizes.

This same concept applies to diagnostic imaging at Yampa Valley Medical Center, where radiation dosage is not "one size fits all."

YVMC has always paid special attention to its pediatric patients. And now it has joined an international campaign called "Image Gently." The goal of this program, embraced by more than 2,000 medical providers, is "to ensure that all children receive safe, quality care when they undergo medical imaging examinations."

A key component of Image Gently is to raise awareness about the amount of radiation exposure involved in diagnostic imaging for medical purposes - especially in computed tomography or CT scans.

"CT imaging is used more frequently now because it has replaced many invasive diagnostic procedures that were formerly done, including exploratory surgeries," YVMC radiologist Fred Jones, M.D., said. "Additionally, the diagnostic power of the scanning equipment has increased.

"Recognizing that CT scanning is the biggest contributor to medical radiation exposure, equipment manufacturers and health care providers are working together to minimize the amount of exposure while maximizing the diagnostic information we receive from exams," Jones said.

YVMC Diagnostic Imaging Director Mary Jo Wiedel said radiation exposure throughout one's lifetime is a cumulative factor. That is why it is important to limit the amount of radiation exposure received by patients, especially children.

"The benefit of the exam should outweigh the risk of radiation exposure," Wiedel said. "This applies to all patients but is especially important for our younger patients, from infancy through the age of 18."

"Children are not adults. They are more susceptible to the potentially harmful effects of radiation exposure," Jones added.

Jones explained that everyone is exposed to naturally occurring "background radiation" within our environment. Here in Colorado, the level of natural radiation is considerably higher than at sea level. A CT scan can be equivalent to one to two years of background radiation exposure.

The majority of CT scans performed on children are to care for emergency conditions such as trauma or appendicitis, Jones said. For emergent scenarios such as these, a CT scan can be the best diagnostic tool available.

"There is a considerable amount of restraint among the medical community here in ordering CT scans only when they are necessary," Jones said. "The potential risk of radiation exposure is weighed against the risk of not getting an accurate diagnosis."

Ed Havel, radiologic technologist and lead CT tech at YVMC, explained that radiographers apply the technique called ALARA. This means using a radiation dosage that is "as low as reasonably achievable."

Havel said YVMC adopted national pediatric protocols for CT scanning soon after they were introduced eight years ago.

After a physician orders a scan for a pediatric patient, a radiologist at YVMC reviews the order. Then the radiographer sets the imaging equipment parameters based on the child's weight so the correct dosage of radiation will be used.

YVMC's radiology equipment is calibrated by a physicist annually to ensure that it is within the manufacturer's specifications and national standards.

Image Gently recommends that parents become aware of the amount of radiation exposure their children are receiving.

"We encourage parents to keep an imaging log for their children, much like an immunization record," Wiedel said. "This can help prevent repetitive imaging, especially when more than one physician or hospital is involved in a child's medical care."

YVMC has created cards on which parents can note the dates and types of imaging exams their child has received. Information sheets also explain medical radiation and how it is measured.

"Providing safe care is our mission at YVMC," Wiedel said. "Our Diagnostic Imaging care team has always been knowledgeable about this issue. Now we want to get the message out there to parents."

Christine McKelvie is public relations director at Yampa Valley Medical Center. She can be reached at


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