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An Outcry Demanding Oversight Of Over Radiation

Recent articles published in the New York Times have sparked an outcry calling for increased regulation and oversight of medical radiation. Lawmakers, researchers, leading medical organizations, health care providers and patients have expressed both outrage at a recent rash of over radiation errors and commitment to ensuring that such mistakes do not occur again in the future.

The Concerns

Radiation technology has developed at a breakneck pace, which has left manufacturers and health care providers scrambling to ensure that equipment is properly programmed and utilized. Unfortunately, mistakes in software creation, equipment calibration and inadequate training or understaffing of those who operate the equipment for the benefit of patients have recently lead to an alarming rate of catastrophic injuries and fatalities.

In the quest to provide the most advanced and effective treatment available, manufactures and hospitals have neglected to ensure that all safety protocols are followed and all kinks are worked out before patients come in contact with high doses of radiation. While radiation treatment has prolonged countless lives, over radiation has recently cut many lives short. For example, in 2004 and 2005 the Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, Florida over radiated 77 brain cancer patients by 50 percent. A Philadelphia hospital similarly over radiated more than 90 prostate cancer patients. The Times reports that Dr. John J. Feldmeier, a leading authority on radiation injuries, estimates that 1 in 20 patients exposed to radiation will suffer injuries as a result of the exposure.

The Response

Initially, the public responded angrily not only because mistakes had occurred, but also because mistakes and accidents are chronically underreported and because thirteen states, including California, do not require that accidents be reported at all. Equally infuriating is the fact that 17 states do not require those who administer radiation to be licensed and eight states do not require techs to have any specific educational requirements.

New York State became alarmed at the rate of underreporting accidents as early as 2004. Over the years, the state started sending special alerts to health care providers asking them to be more vigilant and to be cautious with linear accelerator machines which emit high-energy beams of radiation. The federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) similarly alerted hospitals nationwide to be careful when performing CT scans on stroke victims, due to the high rate of errors with this type of patient.

Nevertheless, little action has been taken to hold manufacturers and hospitals accountable for their mistakes. For example, despite hundreds of documented mistakes in the past eight years, New York State has only issued three fines against radiotherapy centers; the largest fine amounted to $8,000. It took several high profile articles in January editions of the New York Times to inspire lawmakers and professional organizations to take necessary action.

The Possible Solutions

The American Society for Radiation Oncology (Astro), the leading professional organization dedicated to the subject, was the first to respond to the articles in the Times by issuing a six-point plan to improve radiation safety. The plan calls for establishing a national database for linear accelerator errors, stronger accreditation and training programs, national standards for radiation therapy treatment teams and safer medical equipment.

The FDA followed suit by announcing that it would take steps to adequately regulate three of the most dangerous kinds of radiation treatments: CT scans, nuclear medicine studies and fluoroscopies. The Administration has yet to decide on what safeguards it will impose upon manufacturers and health care providers, but several proposals are being considered. Congressional subcommittees have also held hearings to determine how best to address concerns on a federal level.

Given that the average American’s exposure to radiation has increased seven-fold since 1980 and that over exposure to radiation can lead to an increased cancer risk and a multitude of other injuries, it is imperative that lawmakers and health care providers act swiftly to curb the alarming rate of over radiation accidents in the U.S. In the meantime, vulnerable populations such as women, children and those who have recently been exposed to radiation treatments should speak with their physicians about their medical records and any mistakes that may have yet to be disclosed.

Speak to an Attorney

Over radiation injuries are difficult to detect and may appear to be symptoms of another condition. Injuries also may not surface for several years following over exposure. As radiation errors can ultimately cause organ failure and death, it is exceptionally important that victims of radiation errors receive proper treatment. If you suspect that symptoms you are suffering from may be the result of over radiation, please contact an experienced medical malpractice attorney. A lawyer at Corsiglia, McMahon & Allard, L.L.P. can review your case, explain your legal rights and help you determine your best course of action. We serve clients in San Jose, Oakland, Mountain View, San Francisco and all surrounding areas. Call us at (408) 289-1417 to schedule a free consultation.

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