Intermountain Uses EMR To Share Radiation Exposure

Posted on May 24, 2013 I Written By

Anne Zieger is a healthcare journalist who has written about the industry for 30 years. Her work has appeared in all of the leading healthcare industry publications, and she's served as editor in chief of several healthcare B2B sites.

It’s a well-known and worrisome trend that patients are receiving potentially harmful doses of  radiation from tests such as CT scans. Generally speaking, though, neither patients nor clinicians know exactly how much radiation exposure an individual has received.

At Intermountain Healthcare, however,  they’re hoping to change this state of affairs. The Salt Lake City-based health system of 22 hospitals and 185 clinics is launching what the Wall Street Journal says is the first major effort to measure and report patients’ cumulative radiation exposure.

Intermountain’s effort is focused on the tests that produce the highest amount of radiation, including CT scans, nuclear medicine scans and interventional radiology exams of the heart, the WSJ reports.  As part of an effort to educate clinicians and patients about medical radiation, both will be able to access data on patient exposure levels through Intermountain’s EMR.

The idea behind listing a patient’s radiation exposure is to encourage both clinician and patient to consider the risks and benefits of a particular test and at times, avoid the test if the needed information can be obtained with a radiation-free test, the WSJ piece says.

In a typical year, Intermountain’s patients receive 220,000 CT scans and radiology procedures, so data that helps patient and doctor consider alternatives could conceivably have a meaningful effect, clinicians there say.

Intermountain is not the only hospital system to focus on tracking radiation doses. For example, Hospital Corporation of America, the largest for-profit hospital system, is kicking off a new “Radiation Right” campaign tracking patient doses, the newspaper reports. But it does seem to be the only chain sharing the data with patients via an EMR.

Realistically, these efforts are still in their infancy, as researchers don’t know how much of a cumulative dose of radiation directly increases cancer risk. Still, this does seem like an excellent use of the EMR as a collaborative tool engaging patients in making better-informed health decisions.