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Senate OKs bill targeting radiation overdoses from CT scans

Measure comes in response to overdoses at three local hospitals and calls for noting the dosage level on each image as well as in a patient's records.

May 29, 2010|By Alan Zarembo, Los Angeles Times

The state Senate approved a bill Friday aimed at preventing the errors that led to radiation overdoses for patients at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and elsewhere.

The bill, which passed 24 to 5, would require that the radiation dose delivered with each scan be recorded on the image as well as in the patient's medical records. The bill must now be approved by the state Assembly and signed by the governor to become law.

"It's a great start," said Michael Heuser, who received overdoses in three separate scans at Cedars last year. "I hope that it translates into some national agenda."

Heuser was the first of more than 260 cases discovered at the Los Angeles hospital. Over 18 months starting in early 2008, the hospital accidentally delivered eight times the normal radiation to patients receiving CT brain perfusion scans, a procedure used primarily to detect strokes.

The overdoses triggered a nationwide warning by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for CT facilities to check their machines. The problem was discovered at two other Los Angeles-area hospitals — Glendale Adventist and Providence St. Joseph Medical Center in Burbank — as well as a hospital in Huntsville, Ala.

The overdoses began after the hospitals had reprogrammed their machines to use a new protocol — a set of computerized instructions — to control the scans.

Although the level of radiation appears on CT operators' computer screens during a scan, the dose a patient receives is not automatically recorded. The bill, sponsored by state Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima), is aimed at making sure that the abnormal doses are not overlooked. The bill would also strengthen accreditation requirements for operators of medical imaging equipment.

The bill's opponents, all Republicans, argued that such regulation is best left to the federal government.

In February, the FDA announced new safety controls on medical imaging devices and plans to encourage development of more precise dosing standards.

A medical radiation expert estimated that the Cedars patients face a 1 in 600 risk of developing a brain tumor for each scan they received. Because tumors can take decades to develop, younger patients face a greater danger.

Heuser, who is 53 and has filed a lawsuit against Cedars, said he does his best to avoid unnecessary radiation to protect himself. "I have no idea what's going to happen to me a year from now, in five years, in 10 years, in 20 years," he said.

alan.zarembo@latimes.com

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