Articles Posted in Radiation Injury

All those concerned with patient safety have likely read many of the recent reports about victims’ overexposure to radiation. With increasing use of radiation to combat the spread of deadly invaders of the body or to receiving imaging for diagnosis, the risk of unnecessary radiation damage increases. It is becoming vital for all medical professionals to take every precaution possible to minimize the collateral effects of radiation on the patient.

Fox News recently reported on the steps that some health care providers are taking in their efforts to minimize the rising examples of medical mistakes. Specifically, some facilities are pledging to use the least radiation necessary for any given procedure. The new-found pledge was instigated in large part by recent research that has shown Americans to be receiving much larger doses of radiation than in the past.

One of the main factors leading to the exposure is a drive for profits. Most insurers pay doctors based on the total number of procedures performed, thereby rewarding doctors for performing more tests requiring radiation exposure. In other cases the doctors themselves own the equipment being used and thus have a financial incentive to order tests with the machine.
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Certain medical procedures, tests, and operations will always involve risks. It is understood that even perfect medical care may produce complications at times. However, that fact does not absolve all medical personnel from doing all in their power to reasonably shield patients from unwanted side-effects.

For example, medical necessity at times requires patients to be exposed to varying levels of radiation. In those circumstances, it is vital that medical personnel take precautions to minimize the radiation exposure and keep patients as safe as possible. Unfortunately, there are many instances when that does not occur.

The New York Times recently published a detailed story including examples of egregious radiation exposure errors. A Chicago area facility, Evanston Hospital is currently at the center of controversy after three patients were severely harmed following a medical mistake of overexposure to radiation.

One victim was a young woman who went to the hospital to get treatment for head pain. She agreed to undergo a procedure known as stereotactic radiosurgery, or SRS-a therapy that targets tiny tumors in the brain with a powerful, pinpoint radiation attack. The potency of the radiation makes accuracy essential. Unfortunately, what the victim didn’t know was that Evanston Hospital lacked certain safety features to ensure that the radiation did not spill into unwanted areas. The radiation was ultimately funneled outside of the metal cone that was supposed to channel the beam. Her entire head was exposed to lethal doses of radiation. She is now in a nursing home, virtually comatose, unable to eat, speak, walk, or care for her three young children.

That young victim was not the only one. It was soon discovered that at least two other patients had suffered similar injuries at the same hospital. Investigations since have revealed that the SRS process has leads to dozens of over radiation errors. In many of those cases the errors might have been caught if the medical personnel had only followed more rigorous safety protocols.
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According to the Food and Drug Administration, mistakes made by the operator of CT scan machines have been responsible for over 400 patients receiving an overdose of radiation. According to the Los Angeles Times,the patients were all undergoing a CT scan on their heads when the medical professional leading them through the procedure mistakenly exposed them to an unnecessarily high dose of radiation.

The radiation overdoses were first observed at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles-at least 260 patients received eight times the normal radiation dose following s CT scan. The damaging exams were blamed on confusion over the computerized instructions provided with the General Electric scanner. To put the overexposure into perspective: the normal CT scan already gives a patient 400 times more radiation exposure than a regular chest x-ray. The patients here have therefore received the equivalent of 3,200 regular x-rays-leading to significant cancer risk, hair loss, among other problems.

The FDA has called on manufacturers to make design changes to prevent future mistakes. Specifically, the administration recommended that the companies that make CT machines compile information about radiation dosing in a more accessible form-operators often currently have little information on dosages. In addition, the FDA suggested manufacturers install “pop-up” warnings that would alert operators of the machines that they are administering a dangerous overdose of radiation to the patient.
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We have previous posted the news of radiation violations which affected thousands of patients at Veterans Affairs hospitals across the country. Last week, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission finished its investigation into the incidents, and ultimately decided to fine the Department of Veterans Affairs $39,000 for the medical mistakes.

The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that the fine was levied after radiation safety violations were uncovered at 12 VA hospitals. This particular fine resulted for two separate incidents connected to the Department’s brachytherapy program. Brachytherapy is essentially the use of radiation to attack tumors in the body. It involves implanting dozens of radioactive seeds into certain glands in an effort to kill cancer cells over a period of months.

Radiation treatment obviously poses unique risks to those who need it. Our Chicago medical malpractice attorneys have fought for many patients who have suffered at the hands of radiation errors in various forms. The risk of mistakes in radiation is high, so obviously extreme care should always be used by medical professionals. However, The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission discovered that the VA failed to have any pre-operative procedures in place and failed to notify patients of errors following a failed procedure.

The New York Times discussed a pair of studies that were recently released by the journal “Radiology.” The research suggests that physicians should take a new approach to limiting the exposure of patients to potentially dangerous doses of radiation during screenings for breast exams.

It is common knowledge that radiation can be harmful in large doses. Of course patients are exposed to lower levels of it during routine testing-x-rays and ultrasounds being some of the most common. However, problems arise when more complex testing is used that involves increased exposure to radiation. In particular, a few nuclear-based breast imaging tests used to screen for breast cancer involve injection of large amounts of radioactive material in patient bodies. These tests-known as breast-specific gamma imaging and positron emission mammography-are supposed to compliment regular tests but are often used liberally. They offer much more radiation exposure than regular mammograms. Specifically, experts believe that just one of these exams exposes a patient to the same radiation as the total they would get from a lifetime of yearly mammograms.

The radiation exposure ultimately increases some patients’ risk of getting other cancers, like those in the kidney and bladder. The risk for some patients of getting these cancers may be 30 to 40 times greater with the high exposure tests compared to the regular tests. Considering the side effects, the Radiology study indicated that it would be wise for physicians to more fully consider whether the test is actually necessary before ordering it.

The New York Times recently profiled a growing problem of medical error, radiation overdoses. Radiation treatments are often used at hospitals to test for strokes in a procedure known as a CT brain profusion scan.

Radiation always contains some risks, but doctors are supposed to protect against exposing patients to harmful levels of radiation that are unnecessary. Recent investigation, however, have uncovered that the true extent of the problem. Many doctors are negligently exposing patients with too much radiation than necessary. A quick investigation discovered, for example, that the well-known and respected Cedars-Sinai hospital had over 269 cases of extra-radiation.

The total number of patients exposed to unnecessary levels of radiation is unclear, but the number continues to rise as more injured patient come forward. Food and Drug Administration officials admit that the total number of patients affected is not known but likely higher than initial estimates suggested.

Two weeks ago we posted on the medical negligence at a Veteran’s Affair hospital in St. Louis that exposed veterans in several states (including Illinois) to hepatitis and HIV. That incident is only one in a string of errors at VA facilities across the country.

The Philadelphia Enquirer discussed another example of inadequate medical care at the Philadelphia VA Medical Center. Over a six year period, the facility had radiation therapy problems, giving the incorrect dosage to nearly over 85% of the patients receiving the treatment.

The radiation was part of a prostate-cancer treatment. Known as brachytherapy, the procedure involves the implantation of tiny radioactive seeds into the prostate gland to destroy cancer over a period of months. When done incorrectly, however, the radioactive seeds may eventually destroy healthy tissue while leaving the cancer intact.

According to an article in the Chicago Sun-Times, an Illinois man lost his wife to medical negligence after she suffered a perforated bowel. The retired police office and his sons settled a wrongful-death lawsuit in Cook County Circuit Court against the Little Company of Mary Hospital in Chicago and two other entities. The $7.5 million settlement with the hospital set a Cook County record for a settlement in a wrongful death of an adult without minor children.

The victim was chairperson of ten community mental health advisory boards in Chicago. She was diagnosed with stage three endometrial cancers and began radiation therapy at the Chicago hospital. There, she was over-radiated, causing a perforated bowel and a bacterial infection in her blood. This medical mistake ultimately caused her wrongful death. According to the family’s medical malpractice lawyer, the victim received and overdose in radiation. To read about the landmark Chicago medical malpractice , settlement please click the link.

The FDA is currently in the process of investigating a series of medical cases in which over 270 patients were exposes to excess amounts of radiation. This occurred when the victim were undergoing CT brain perfusion scans. In October officials realized that patients in Los Angeles were exposed to 8 times the normal amount of radiation used in conducting these computed tomography scans. A 59-year-old woman reported having a bald strip on her head a few weeks after receiving a CT scan. She released through her medical records that she had been exposed to a higher degree of radiation than normal. High radiation can lead to hear loss and skin redness. The FDA will continue investigating the cause of the medical error with state and local health authorities. Radiation error is a common form of medical malpractice. To learn more about the radiation error, please click the link.

The hospital that recently disclosed they had been giving overdoses of radiation told the Los Angeles Times that they had contacted all those affected by the medical error. However, some four people claim that they were only asked about hair loss and not told of the mistake or its potential cancer risk. The patients claimed that doctors neither acknowledged any medical error nor explained that the patients had been exposed to eight times more radiation than necessary. One victim had lost clumps of hair in the shower, leaving him bald from the tops of his ears to his neck. He told the doctor that his hair had grown back and that was the end of the conversation. The hospital has said the overdoses stemmed from an error made when the hospital reconfigured a scanner to improve doctors’ ability to see blood flow in the brain. The most serious risk from the radiation overdose is a brain tumor. Ethic experts state that if medical error was done, the hospital would have a legal obligation to tell patients of any mistake. To read more about the medical mistake, please click the link.

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