Massachusetts Doctors Move to Fill Low-Dose Radiation Market Niche

Published March 1, 2008

The increasing use of Computed Tomography (“CT”) scans in today’s hospitals is prompting health professionals to look more closely at the potential effects of the radiation from those scans and consider how to minimize patient radiation exposure during the procedure before government steps in to further regulate their way of doing business.

RCG Health Care Consulting, led by Dr. Giles Boland, vice chairman of the Department of Radiology at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), announced in December a series of CT practices and protocols that allow radiologists to reduce radiation exposure while still being able to obtain diagnostic-quality images from their scans.

Exact Parameters

Boland and his colleagues in the MGH Department of Radiology spent 10 years devising specific protocols for adult and pediatric scans. Those protocols, which include exact parameters for each step of each different CT scan, are expected to enable physicians to decrease a patient’s total level of radiation exposure by up to 60 percent.

“There are more than 64 billion CT scans being performed in the U.S. each year,” Boland said in a December 13 interview. “[A CT scan] is now on the critical pathway of most major diseases. More physicians want CT scans so that they can look at blood vessels and inside structures.”

When those tests are ordered, Boland said, “it is the responsibility of radiologists to have protocols in place to minimize the level of radiation” exposure for patients.

There is no “tangible” evidence of adverse effects of medical radiation, Boland notes, which explains why many organizations still haven’t addressed the issue.

“The science is still theoretical,” Boland said. “Most of the data we have on the potential risk of cancer is still derived from Hiroshima data [from the after-effects of the 1945 atomic bomb] and extrapolated from there.” In addition, the ability to decrease radiation while maintaining CT quality is “just not readily available at a medium-sized hospital.”

To create a system for doing that, a radiologist “would have to reinvent the method, protocol by protocol,” which practitioners often do not have the time to do.

Seamless Integration

Having themselves completed the process of developing more than 100 radiation-reducing CT protocols, Boland and RCG have moved to fill the growing opening in the radiology market by transforming their new, low-radiation technique into a product that will be available to radiologists outside of major medical centers.

“There has been considerable academic interest” in the protocols, said David Charpie, executive director of RCG. Whether this new method will be mandated by government or voluntarily adopted by hospitals across the country remains to be seen–it will “probably be a combination of both at the end of the day,” Charpie said.

With the work on developing the protocols already completed, said Boland, the new method can be seamlessly integrated by radiologists “with minimal disruption of their workflow,” leaving little reason for hospitals not to voluntarily move toward lower-dosage CT scanning.

“It took 10 years of development to get where we are today,” Boland said. “Doctors will want to [lower CT radiation] as quickly as they can, rather than do 10 more years of work on their own.”

Jeff Emanuel ([email protected]) is a research fellow for The Heartland Institute and managing editor of Health Care News.