All things being equal, why not choose the low-energy imaging study? It’s an ethos that creeps delicately into the clinical decision-making realm, but researchers at Wichita State University (WSU) insist their new study, designed to lower energy and material consumption within radiology, should only be used as a guideline for departments to reduce carbon footprints.
“We use the American College of Radiology ranking system of imaging equipment for each patient condition they list,” says Michael Overcash, PhD, a professor in the Sustainable Materials and Energy Systems department at WSU. “Only if two machines are rated as the best do we say there is a choice available. In actuality, the imaging community must identify where they believe there are alternatives, and then our research can help them seek the one with a better environmental impact.”
Along with Janet Twomey, PhD, Overcash and a WSU team worked with the Robert J. Dole VA Medical Center, Wesley Medical Center, and Cypress Women's Imaging in Wichita to help radiology departments better understand the “environmental impact” of their practices. Scientific versions of the data will soon be published in peer-reviewed journals.
According to Overcash, choosing between cost and environmental benefit need not be a difficult decision, particularly when overall benefits are considered. As one example, he says, “The costs of the two gown systems [reusable or single-use gowns and drapes used in surgery] are comparable, but the environmental benefit of the reusables [as opposed to disposable items] is 300% to 800% better, and so that factor goes directly to the sustainability program bottom line—so similar cost, but other benefits.”
The WSU team's advanced studies using life cycle assessment (LCA) found that “reducing the materials used during imaging tests led to direct energy improvement,” according to the press release. LCA is described as a “technique used to measure the environmental aspects and potential impacts associated with a product, process or service. It is a way for researchers to compile information about energy input and release, evaluate, and interpret the results.”
Environmental impact and sustainability are not new concepts in radiology. In 2011, Health and Human Services (HHS) and National Institutes of Health (NIH) issued a report on how to make radiology “greener.” The HHS 2011 Strategic Sustainability Performance Plan revealed that the NIH had replaced film x-rays with digital imaging to reduce the use of common pollutants.