Health Policy and Practice

Diagnostic CT Scans: Assessment of Patient, Physician, and Radiologist Awareness of Radiation Dose and Possible Risks

PURPOSE: To determine the awareness level concerning radiation dose and possible risks associated with computed tomographic (CT) scans among patients, emergency department (ED) physicians, and radiologists.

MATERIALS AND METHODS: Adult patients seen in the ED of a U.S. academic medical center during a 2-week period with mild to moderate abdominopelvic or flank pain and who underwent CT were surveyed after acquisition of the CT scan. Patients were asked whether or not they were informed about the risks, benefits, and radiation dose of the CT scan and if they believed that the scan increased their lifetime cancer risk. Patients were also asked to estimate the radiation dose for the CT scan compared with that for one chest radiograph. ED physicians who requested CT scans and radiologists who reviewed the CT scans were surveyed with similar questions and an additional question regarding the number of years in practice. The χ2 test of independence was used to compare the three respondent groups regarding perceived increased cancer risk from one abdominopelvic CT scan.

RESULTS: Seven percent (five of 76) of patients reported that they were told about risks and benefits of their CT scan, while 22% (10 of 45) of ED physicians reported that they had provided such information. Forty-seven percent (18 of 38) of radiologists believed that there was increased cancer risk, whereas only 9% (four of 45) of ED physicians and 3% (two of 76) of patients believed that there was increased risk (χ22 = 41.45, P < .001). All patients and most ED physicians and radiologists were unable to accurately estimate the dose for one CT scan compared with that for one chest radiograph.

CONCLUSION: Patients are not given information about the risks, benefits, and radiation dose for a CT scan. Patients, ED physicians, and radiologists alike are unable to provide accurate estimates of CT doses regardless of their experience level.

© RSNA, 2004


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Article History

Published in print: May 2004