House Hearing Highlights the Need for Federal Medical Radiation Standards

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Publication date: 
15 March 2010

House Hearing Highlights the Need for Federal Medical Radiation Standards

“In some states hairdressers are better regulated than people who perform medical radiation procedures.” - Sandra Hayden, American Society of Radiologic Technologists

There was uniform agreement among witnesses and the members of the Subcommittee on Health of the House Energy and Commerce Committee that stronger federal regulation is needed of medical radiation diagnostic and treatment procedures.  Among those testifying at the February 26 hearing was Michael Herman, president of the American Association of Physicists in Medicine, a Member Society of the American Institute of Physics.

Herman and other the witnesses called for passage of H.R. 3652, the Consistency, Accuracy, Responsibility and Excellence in Medical Imaging and Radiation Therapy Act of 2009.  The lead sponsor of the CARE legislation is Rep. John Barrow (D-GA).  The bill has 37 cosponsors from both parties. As stated in the 14-page bill, “The purpose of this Act is to improve the quality and value of health care by increasing the safety and accuracy of medical imaging examinations and radiation therapy procedures, thereby reducing duplication of services and decreasing costs.” Under this bill, the Public Health Service Act and the Social Security Act would be amended to require certification or state licensure of personnel performing or planning the technical component of radiation therapy or medical imaging examinations.  The key section of this legislation states: “the Secretary [of Health and Human Services], in consultation with recognized experts in the technical provision of medical imaging or radiation therapy services, shall establish minimum standards for personnel who perform, plan, evaluate, or verify patient dose for medical imaging examinations or radiation therapy procedures.”  This legislation has been pending before Congress since 2000.  The Senate unanimously passed the bill in 2006, but the legislation died at the end of the session before the House acted.

The hearing followed reports in the New York Times about faulty radiation treatments for prostate cancer at a VA hospital in Philadelphia, excessive radiation used in brain scans at a private hospital in Los Angeles, and a young man whose parents testified about an extreme overdose of radiation he had received from a linear accelerator.   Taking care not to mischaracterize the purpose of the hearing, subcommittee members and witnesses spoke of the benefits of radiologic technologies. Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA), chairman of the full committee said, “Both diagnostic and therapeutic radiology interventions save lives.  We want them.  We need them.”  Subcommittee chairman Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ) stated, “medical radiation undoubtedly saves lives.  It has reshaped the world of diagnostics and has offered patients less invasive alternatives for treating complex and life-threatening conditions. . . . We are not here today to make the statement that medical radiation should not be used.”

The witnesses - from academia, medical organizations, medical institutions, and industry - spoke of the benefits of radiation used in diagnosis and treatment, but recognized the need for increased federal regulation to replace the fragmented and patchwork statewide system now in place.  AAPM President Herman’s oral testimony aptly summarized the hearing’s thrust when he said: “we believe that patient safety and the use of medical radiation will be increased through consistent education and certification of medical team members, whose qualifications are recognized nationally, and who follow consensus practice guidelines that meet established national accrediting standards. We have been working together for years on many of these issues. We must do more and we need some help. Together we will continue to make the use of medical radiation safer and more effective for the people that need it.”

Herman’s full testimony, and that of the other witnesses, as well as an archived webcast of this hearing are available here.