Intermountain Healthcare to Track Patients' Cumulative Radiation Exposure

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The Salt Lake City, Utah-based nonprofit health system that has made a name for itself as an innovator is now the first such organization to tackle the problem of how to monitor patients' cumulative radiation exposure over a lifetime.

The system will work by tracking scans and radiation dose on patients through their electronic health record. The data will also be linked to Intermountain’s personal health record program for patients, so that patients can view their individual radiation history online at any time by signing up for the free “My Health” program. Though not a perfect solution, giving patients online access to their imaging history can help in situations where the patient must be treated outside of the Intermountain network of 22 hospitals and 185 clinics and needs to inform the physician they are seeing about their radiation history.

The development comes as a large study published in the British Medical Journal revealed that among 680,211 Australian pediatric patients (ages 0-19) who had been exposed to a CT scan at least one year before any cancer diagnosis, the risk of getting cancer increased 24 percent.

“Having [cumulative radiation dose] information available is especially helpful for children with certain chronic health problems, as they may need to have many tests involving radiation during their lifetime,” says Keith White, MD, medical director of Intermountain’s Imaging Services in the press release. “The cancer risk from an imaging test is lower the older a person gets, and the highest risk is for children.”

Intermountain predicts it will be tracking about about 220,000 higher-dose procedures and imaging exams annually, beginning with scans performed in the last quarter of 2012.

Intermountain is the first and largest, but it is not likely to be alone for long. The National Institutes of Health is already incorporating radiation-dose exposure reports into electronic medical records at its clinical center. In addition, according to the Wall Street Journal, the publicly traded for-profit hospital system Hospital Corporation of America is planning to track individual patients’ cumulative radiation dose as part of its Radiation Right campaign, although that system is not yet launched.

Finally, the ACR is of course sponsoring the national Dose Index Registry to allow imaging providers to compare their CT doses against national benchmarks.