AAPM Responds to the NY Times Article: “X-Rays and Unshielded Infants”
March 3, 2011
The American Association of Physicists in Medicine (AAPM) is a scientific and professional organization composed of scientists (medical physicists) whose clinical practice is dedicated to accuracy, safety and quality in radiation oncology, medical imaging, image-guided medical procedures and medical radiation safety. Articles published recently in the New York Times have focused on rare events in radiation therapy and imaging that have resulted in tragic consequences for patients. The AAPM and its members deeply regret that these events have occurred, and are committed to actions to further reduce the likelihood of similar events in the future.
“The American Association of Physicists in Medicine (AAPM) believes that one way way to address concerns about health care quality, radiation safety and safe equipment operation is to enact legislation that would establish minimum education, training, and experience requirements for all individuals involved in imaging and radiation therapy," said AAPM President J. Anthony Seibert, FAAPM, FACR.
For the past 12 years, the AAPM along with the other members of the Alliance for Quality Imaging and Radiation Therapy have lobbied Congress to pass a bill that would establish minimum educational and certification requirements, not only for medical physicists, but also for technologists and people in 10 other occupations in medical imaging and radiation therapy. AAPM strongly supports the CARE bill, which stands for Consistency, Accuracy, Responsibility and Excellence in Medical Imaging and Radiation Therapy, as a method to improve patient safety.
Currently, basic educational standards for medical imaging and radiation therapy professionals are voluntary in many states, allowing some individuals to perform radiologic procedures without any formal education. Medical Physicists are currently licensed in only 4 states – FL, HI, NY and TX. They are regulated to varying degrees in many (but not all) other states through regulation – see the interactive map. The AAPM believes that although professional licensure is the optimal goal, the passage of legislation such as the previously mentioned CARE bill would go a long way towards establishing requirements for personnel performing the technical components of imaging and radiation therapy.
The bill has been introduced in previous sessions of Congress and was unanimously passed by the Senate in 2006, but died when the House did not take action on the bill before the session ended. As professionals with a deep sense of responsibility to the safety of every patient receiving an imaging or radiation therapy procedure, we have for many years been very concerned with Congress’ inaction on such an important matter, particularly when the professional societies have long been unified in their support for stronger standards.
AAPM, along with the other members of the Alliance for Quality Imaging and Radiation Therapy will continue to advocate for legislation to establish minimum standards for personnel involved with clinical imaging and radiation therapy procedures.
In summary, AAPM believes that patient safety in the use of medical radiation will be increased through: national recognition of required radiation team member qualifications; improved and consistent accreditation processes to ensure qualified people in appropriate staffing numbers perform medical radiation procedures following national consensus best, safe practices; a consistent and accessible national event reporting/recording system; and enhancement of the FDA 510k process with objective technical support.
The AAPM is the premier organization in medical physics, a broadly based scientific and professional discipline encompassing physics principles and applications in biology and medicine whose mission is to advance the science, education and professional practice of medical physics. Medical physicists contribute to the effectiveness of radiological imaging procedures by assuring radiation safety and helping to develop improved imaging techniques (e.g., mammography CT, MR, ultrasound). They contribute to development of therapeutic techniques (e.g., prostate implants, stereotactic radiosurgery), collaborate with radiation oncologists to design treatment plans, and monitor equipment and procedures to insure that cancer patients receive the prescribed dose of radiation to the correct location. Medical physicists are responsible for ensuring that imaging and treatment facilities meet the rules and regulations of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and various State regulatory agencies. AAPM represents over 7,500 medical physicists. Please visit the Association Web site for additional information.
To the Editor, 3.3.2011
The article “X-rays and Unshielded Infants” leaves readers with the view that the medical community is not diligent about minimizing patient radiation exposure. In general and in many ways, the community has done a lot to protect patients, yet there is more to do. The members of the American Association of Physicists in Medicine (AAPM) are dedicated to ensuring the accuracy, safety and quality of the equipment used to deliver medical radiation. We believe that patient safety in the use of medical radiation can be increased through continuing collaborative efforts toward: national recognition of required radiation team member qualifications; improved and consistent accreditation processes to ensure qualified people in appropriate staffing numbers perform medical radiation procedures following national consensus best, safe practices; a consistent and accessible national event reporting system; and enhancement of the FDA 510(k) process with objective technical support. AAPM fully supports legislation like the Consistency, Accuracy, Responsibility and Excellence in Medical Imaging and Radiation Therapy (“CARE” bill) and urges Congress to move forward with introduction and passage of this legislation.
J. Anthony Seibert, Ph.D., FAAPM, FACR
One Physics Ellipse
College Park, MD 20740