11:47pm Sunday 05 July 2020

Radiating good health?

INCREASED healthcare capabilities have raised Australians’ expectations for better personal health outcomes. However, these expectations are creating numerous challenges for health professionals and health policymakers.

“Australians are very keen to use new technologies. Current generations have different expectations of health care and the health system,” says Associate Professor Rachael Moorin, from Curtin’s Centre for Population Health Research.

“The most obvious is how we’ve changed our views about ageing – what is normal and what isn’t. We stay more informed about chronic diseases than in the past, and we tend to ‘medicalise’ normal symptoms of ageing.”

Although most of us are keen to try medical innovations, Moorin is concerned about our lack of knowledge on some of the technologies we embrace – especially computed tomography, or CT, scanning.

CT scans deliver a high dose of radiation, she warns. And in some cases, the high-resolution scan delivered by CT doesn’t warrant the potential harm of the radiation exposure. “In the past, CT was used primarily for cancer diagnosis and follow-up. But today the technology is being used for conditions like sporting injuries,” Moorin says, “which changes the risk–benefit dynamic.”

MOORIN has been investigating the reasons for the surge in diagnostic imaging, and in CT scans in particular. The National Health and Medical Research Council is funding the study, recognising that the increase in CT scans has implications for patient safety and policy decisions.

Another of her concerns is the manner in which CT scanning technologies are now ‘packaged’.

“It’s often a ‘black box’ approach, with manufacturer presets that make the scan more automated and faster,” she says.

“It’s easier to administer, so it’s used more frequently – and is performed more often on children.

“However, the parameters need to be tailored to the patient to reduce the radiation dose.

“People don’t consider that the risk from radiation is cumulative over a lifetime, and the risk is exponentially greater at younger ages.”

The research leads from a previous study funded by the Cancer Council Western Australia. “There is a lack of consensus among service providers in Western Australia – including our public hospitals – on the radiation dose to use when CT scanning,” Moorin says.

“For the same clinical indication and diagnostic benefit, the study showed that the radiation dose from a standard scan varied across providers.

“And we were astonished to find that many GPs incorrectly believe that CT scans deliver only a low-to-medium dose of radiation, and that MRIs and ultrasound scans also deliver radiation – they don’t.”

Moorin’s study involves researchers from The University of Western Australia and Notre Dame University (Fremantle).

Story: Karen Green
Photography: Alana Blowfield

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