As Radiation Technology Improves, Patient Safety is Left Behind

Radiation technology is on the rise, delivering both higher and more precise doses of radiation treatment and better detecting diseases, including cancer. However, as technology improves, patient safeguards and hospital systems are lagging behind, resulting in medical errors that go unnoticed. While there are no recent reports of error, given the large number of cancer treatments as specialized centers, patients in Massachusetts are certainly at risk for excess radiation exposure.

At a New Jersey hospital, 36 cancer patients were overradiated by a medical team that was inexperienced in operating new radiation technology.  The mistakes continued for months because the hospital did not have a system for catching the errors.  A man in Louisiana received 38 doses of overradiation because the machine used to treat him was so new that the hospital made a miscalculation, even with training instructors still on the grounds.

Although radiation mistakes resulting in personal injuries are rare and accident reports show that some mistakes could have been detected through standard protocol checking, some oncologists are warning that safety procedures need updating.  Adding to the safety concerns, hospitals may not have sufficient funding to operate the cutting edge technology correctly and manufacturers sometimes sell machines before computer errors have been resolved.  Mistakes in the application of radiation technology also raise questions about the training and supervision of medical physicists and radiation therapists.  Licensing and registration requirements vary greatly from state to state, and 16 states do not require licensing or registration at all. 

The radiation technology regulation regime creates the potential for injuries as well.  Laws protecting radiation patients are patchwork and poorly enforced, meaning hospitals that cause injury and fail to report mistakes go unpunished.  Additionally, the marketplace for radiation technology is largely unregulated.  New products receive only a cursory review by government regulators.  In a market where new technology is the key to attracting business, both manufacturers and hospitals are eager for new products quickly, even if that means technology with existing errors and operational uncertainties.

Over radiation can cause skin reactions, like rashes, fatigue, diarrhea, nausea and vomiting, trouble swallowing, weakness, headache, and hair loss.  Radiation can also increase the chance of getting certain cancers. 

For more information on radiation technology and its risks, see the New York Times article The Radiation Boom.  For more information on the risks and side effects of radiation treatment, see the Mayo Clinic website

For assistance with a case involving exposure to excess radiation or other medical error, contact the lawyers of Breakstone, White, and Gluck, a Boston, Massachusetts law firm.  The attorneys are experienced with medical malpractice, personal injury, and wrongful death cases, at both the trial and appeal level.  For a free consultation with an attorney, call 800 379 1244.